A SUGGESTION last week from Sinn Féin’s transport spokesman Darren O’Rourke that Shannon staff be transferred to Dublin Airport to help deal with the crisis saw him heavily criticised in Clare.
Responding on Tuesday, he said his suggestion (and in the Dáil the Transport Minister indicated attempts had been made to do exactly what Mr O’Rourke suggested) had been slammed in Clare for political reasons.
“I thought it was mischief making and those who were critical were doing so for political reasons. They know very well that they are in the parties that have overseen a totally lopsided aviation policy.
“All of the dominance of Dublin Airport is directly as a result of their policies, not because of Sinn Féin’s policy.
“They know too that the suggestion was made in the context of a national embarrassment, a national emergency, it was made in the context of a number of suggestions, everything on the table.
“That was the position we adopted because the impact of the debacle at Dublin Airport had far wider reaching implications than just for Dublin Airport.”
He said he had not suggested staff go to Dublin if they could not be spared at Shannon.
“It wasn’t a suggestion that workers be taken away to the detriment of Shannon. It was after the policy of flights being redirected had been ruled out. It was after clarifying that the army and Gardai could perform a very limited role and would be of limited use.”
In recent years there has been a lot of focus on the level of imbalance in Irish aviation, and Mr O’Rourke blamed the situation on the big two of Irish politics.
“We need a rebalance of aviation traffic on this island, it’s completely unsustainable, 88% of traffic through one airport and 12% through the other four and it is the direct result of policy decisions that successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments have made.”
The Meath East TD said that there will be a number of challenges regarding correcting the imbalance.
“We operate within the constraints of our starting point, the liberalisation of the aviation market is a challenge, the sale of our shares in Aer Lingus is a challenge, which is something Sinn Féin didn’t support.
“The restriction on State aid rules are a challenge but despite those constraints I think there is scope for movement.”
Asked how Sinn Féin could address the current situation, he said it would see what Shannon Airport’s submission regarding the new national aviation policy says.
While he was reluctant to give any specifics, he said his party would make sure traffic into Ireland would be dispersed.
In the past Sinn Féin has called for Shannon to be brought back under the Dublin Airport Authority umbrella, even though its passenger numbers collapsed while part of the group a number of years ago.
While Sinn Féin was quite vocal about reintegration during the early stages of the pandemic, Mr O’Rourke didn’t advocate this when he spoke to the Champion on Tuesday, but he does feel some change is required.
“Governance structures can’t be a barrier to a more balanced redistribution. I feel the competition between airports in Ireland is acting as a barrier to the balanced development of the regions and the aviation sector.
“We do need to consider the governance structures when we look at delivering a balanced national aviation policy.”
However he said he wouldn’t say at this stage what form of governance should follow, but that options such as the reintegration of Shannon into the DAA or the creation of a new overall State airports body should be seriously considered.