THE pressure is on the Government Minister, Ministers of State and TDs of the region to make a stand against the Aer Lingus dismantling of the Shannon transatlantic base.
Acknowledging that a call on Transport Minister Noel Dempsey to exercise the State’s 25% shareholding in the airline will be fobbed off with the excuse that the airline is now operating as a commercial enterprise, county councillors directed their fury and rage at the airline and its management and Oireachtas members when the Mid-West Regional Authority convened in special session on Wednesday.
“The Government is in a perilous position and we should be calling on the TDs of the region to bring down the Government,” the Limerick Fine Gael city councillor and former mayor, Diarmuid Scully urged.
Similar sentiments came from Shannon independent councillor, Gerry Flynn, who castigated Oireachtas members. “They have failed Shannon and the Aer Lingus workers. It seems that as soon as they go up to Dublin they all get selective amnesia. It is time for them to stand up and be counted,” he said.
Recalling the fight for Shannon’s transatlantic gateway of the early 1990s, Councillor Flynn said, “Even back then we could see what was coming down the line once the Shannon quota was reduced to one-for-one and when open skies came into operation. Now it is all happening and the airport is dying on its feet.”
Mismanagement and disastrous decision-making at the highest levels within Aer Lingus were denounced by other Clare councillors.
“Continental flies out of Shannon in the early morning and its fares in recent weeks were €300 below those of Aer Lingus, which departs from Shannon at midday,” said Councillor P J Kelly, who added “any commercial organisation that lets that happen should not be put in charge of a sidewalk chip shop”.
Councillor Kelly added that the three days that Aer Lingus now proposes to fly direct from Shannon to New York “are the three bad days of the week”. He said, “While Aer Lingus is setting about a cleansing operation at Shannon, the Government should be moving to cleanse Aer Lingus”.
Regional authority director, Liam Conneally noted that from January it will take 12 hours for a passenger from Shannon to reach New York by flying via Boston and if the flight is routed through Dublin, reaching New York will take 16 hours and 40 minutes”.
Councillor Pat McMahon said, “While Aer Lingus has huge adverts in the national media promoting its corporate class service on the Atlantic, I have first-class information that Aer Lingus is losing huge corporate business to other airlines because major firms now feel that the Aer Lingus service through Shannon is not secure. So those full-page adverts are not relevant to Shannon.”
Councillor Oliver Garry said that as an island nation for which access is of critical importance, Aer Lingus should have been kept in State ownership. He said that the biggest mistake was the failure to hold on to a majority shareholding when the airline was being privatised but said that would probably have been off-putting to private investors. The Fine Gael councillor added –“the 25% stake is worthless”. In his view, the biggest problem at Shannon is that the airport is run from Dublin by the Dublin Airport Authority “and every decision is made in Dublin for Dublin first”.
“Shannon has been sold down the river or the Shannon Estuary,” said Limerick County Councillor, Stephen Keary. His experience of flying with Aer Lingus was of “a first-class carrier but highly inefficient”. He added that he was not surprised by the latest proposals. “It has all been orchestrated,” he charged.
The regional authority is to seek an urgent meeting with Transport Minister, Noel Dempsey and to call for action that will ensure the viability of Shannon Airport and the Mid-West region. In support of its lobbying, the authority is to urge the Mid-West Task Force to bring home to the Government that the airport and its connectivity to the USA are vital to economic recovery.