THERE has been unanimous criticism from the county’s politicians of the Aer Lingus decision to close the Shannon cabin crew base, writes Owen Ryan.
Fine Gael deputy Joe Carey said the decision was “hasty and ill advised”, while he said he would work to try and bring about a reversal.
The Clarecastle man accepted that the Government should have published an aviation plan by now.
“Mr Vardakar is going to ask Aer Lingus to defer this decision until the aviation roadmap is published. The aviation lobby is blaming the Government for not publishing a plan and I feel they have a point on this.
“I feel that Eamon Ryan and his department should have published an aviation plan at this stage. “Additionally, I have spoken to a number of Shannon-based Aer Lingus workers, along with Shannon Group CEO, Mary Considine. Shannon is much more than an airport. There’s a reason why there are so many Foreign Direct Investment jobs in Shannon. It’s because of the airport.”
He said that future support for Aer Lingus must come with strings attached.
“Tied into any cash injection for Aer Lingus has to be the proviso that they will protect strategic routes like Heathrow, New York and Boston and that they protect the Aer Lingus base in Shannon.
“The Heathrow slots will come up for review in September 2022. Their use by Shannon needs to be ring-fenced in any deal. I really think there is an opportunity to do this.
“Aer Lingus are in a bad situation in that they are losing money and they have a lot of planes that they can’t use, due to impact of Covid-19. They have to rationalise but why look to Shannon first and take the knife out?
“Their employees in Shannon are on the PUP payment and there is not a cost to the company, at the moment, in that respect.
“Therefore, why take the decision to shut a base that has contributed so much to the airline since it was first established. This decision must be reversed.”
— Joe Carey TD (@joecareytd) May 18, 2021
The Government has had no stake in Aer Lingus for the last six years, and Violet Anne Wynne said that Sinn Féin had opposed the State selling its remaining share in 2015.
Ms Wynne said that the laissez faire approach taken to aviation certainly has not worked for Shannon.
“The Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has taken an unacceptable hands-off approach to aviation and the Government’s lack of action is now costing even more jobs.
“We can’t expect smaller airports to compete with larger ones in a deregulated open arena. Shannon Airport is a vital industry in the Mid-West region and contributes massively to local employment and tourism.
“We cannot risk this essential industry lagging behind the other airports in the country and potentially having a detrimental impact on the region.”
She said that there have been huge cuts imposed on Aer Lingus staff and the State needs to become involved. “Over the last couple of years, there have been 55 job losses, with 14 staff members permanently laid off, with a further 70 whose hours were reduced.
“The remaining full-time employees at Shannon Airport have also been subject to a 20% pay cut, and that’s on top of a differential income between Cork Airport employees of roughly 15% meaning that full-time staff at Shannon receive 35% of a lower salary than their counterpoints in Cork.
“The closure of the cabin crew base in Shannon is a massive blow to that region and the further job losses in Cork are devastating for workers and their families.
“The Minister for Transport must engage with Aer Lingus immediately to try and reverse the base closures and save as many jobs as possible.”
Fianna Fáil’s Cathal Crowe said that a battle must commence to have the decision reversed.
“I don’t think this should be accepted as a fait accompli. I have asked the Taoiseach to intervene in the case and speak with the company directly, because even though the job losses are central to everyone’s thoughts, there are even wider ramifications for our region when one considers the loss of connectivity to the US, Heathrow and continental Europe.
“Without Aer Lingus flying out of Shannon, we are left with very little.
“The Digital Green Cert will be implemented in a matter of weeks and its final agreement and implementation is contingent on it being ratified by all EU member states – the fate of Irish aviation and the fate of Shannon Airport hugely depends on this deal being struck and international air travel resuming in the quickest possible time.”
Summing up, the Meelick man added, “The decision is a commercial one but I hope that some eleventh hour interventions from government and other stakeholders in the region can avert this.
“As my party’s aviation spokesperson but moreover as a TD for Co. Clare, I recognise fully that the fate of our region lives and dies with Shannon and I pledge to the Aer Lingus workers and all who hold Shannon Airport close to their hearts that I will do everything possible, along with others, to try to save the airline’s Shannon base.”
Green party Senator Róisín Garvey said, “This is devastating for those crew and their families. Shannon Airport is a key nucleus of tourism and business to the entire region and must be supported through this Covid aviation crisis. It has to become once again a thriving international airport.”