SHANNON Airport Group CEO Mary Considine declined to meet with local councillors to discuss the uncertainty around the transfer of Shannon Heritage sites (including Bunratty Castle and Folk Park) to Clare County Council.
In advance of Tuesday’s meeting of Shannon Municipal District independent Gerry Flynn had put forward a motion stating, “I am calling on Shannon Municipal District to contact the CEO of Shannon Airport Mary Considine, and arrange an urgent special meeting with elected members to discuss the serious issues facing employees of the Shannon Heritage sites that are located in our district.
“The current situation and lack of engagement and transparency is bringing uncertainty and having a negative impact on the lives of employees and their families.”
However the invitation had been rejected prior to Tuesday’s regular November meeting of the Municipal District, and Senior Executive Engineer Anne Griffin provided a written summary of the reasons given.
“Commercially sensitive discussions are ongoing between Shannon Group and Clare County Council in relation to the transfer of the Shannon Heritage sites in Clare and, as such, a meeting with Shannon Municipal District on this matter is not deemed appropriate at this stage.
“However, the Shannon Airport Group have confirmed that they will attend a future Municipal District meeting to give a wider, general briefing and update on the Group’s activities.”
Councillor Flynn said that the meeting had been sought after he had met with workers, who staged a recent lunchtime protest at Bunratty, and it reflected what they wanted.
He launched a wide ranging criticism of what is now the Shannon Airport Group, saying that decisions like disposing of the Seed Building at Smithstown and the Ballycasey Craft and Design Centre “have had a huge impact on our community”.
Councillor Flynn also said that it hadn’t maintained things as they should at Bunratty.
“They have run it into the ground and they haven’t spent a penny on it.”
Independent councillor PJ Ryan said it was the second time representatives of the Shannon Airport Group had not made themselves available when a meeting was sought.
He said that the lack of openness was disappointing.
“There are no Alsatians or Rottweilers here,” he quipped.
Councillor Ryan said that the workers have mortgages and speaking about their situation, he said, “You can see it in their faces that they are seriously concerned about what’s going to happen.”
Fianna Fáil’s Pat O’Gorman said that the Group has allowed Bunratty to decline over the years, while he said that a large amount of local people depend upon its success.
Fine Gael’s John Crowe said that given the current state of the attractions, “the Government and Shannon Group should thank the Council for even engaging”.
Councillor Pat McMahon said that Shannon Group should have shown “a bit of honesty and openness”.
Cathaoirleach of the Municipal District Michael Begley said the Council should be looking for a decision sooner rather than later.
He said that it appears there is “a tug of war between two Ministers” regarding the provision of funding for the transfer, and he said it was up to Clare’s Oireachtas members to apply pressure to find a resolution.
Towards the end of the debate, Councillor Flynn said there is real concern among workers at Bunratty that it could close in January and never open again.
He said that public representatives have been denied information about the transfer negotiations, something he criticised.
“It is not acceptable to pull down the shutters and say you live in a democracy but you’re not going to exercise your democratic rights.”
Councillor Flynn also claimed that Council Chief Executive Pat Dowling had tried to “silence” him, when he sought to raise issues concerning the transfer at a previous Council meeting.
He added that while the members accepted the decision not to attend, they didn’t like it, and that should be brought back to Ms Considine.
The independent councillor also criticised how the Airport Group has communicated with the Council when they have attended meetings.
“They put up graphs on screens and the devil knows what and we come out of it not knowing whether we’re going forwards or backwards.”
Director of Service Liam Conneally told the meeting that whether the transfer goes ahead or not, the workers’ employment will be secure. He also said he would make the Council’s management aware of the sentiments expressed.
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.