WOULDN’T you just love to be a fly on the wall at the Clare Fianna Fáil regional conference at the West County Hotel in Ennis on Saturday, where grassroots members will have an opportunity to engage with ministers, TDs and senators who, in a matter of weeks, will be voting through a budget that is certain cause extreme hardship to many sections of society.
Given Fianna Fáil’s embarrassingly low ratings in the latest opinion polls, there won’t be too much of a spring in the step of the foot soldiers as they converge on what is the first party conference of its kind in the Clare constituency.
Clare Fianna Fáil Comhairle Dáil Cheantair chairman, Patrick Moloney, in a welcoming message, states that the conference “gives us the opportunity for bonding and meeting up with fellow party members from all units of the organisation”.
Whatever about bonding among the rank and file members, the elected representatives can hardly expect to feel any great warmth.
On Saturday, there will be nowhere to run, nowhere to hide for those in lofty positions within Fianna Fáil. Minister Tony Killeen and his constituency colleague Deputy Timmy Dooley, along with invited guests such as Transport Minister Noel Dempsey; Minister for Agriculture, Brendan Smith and Minister for Social Protection, Eamon Ó Cúiv can expect a no holds barred reception from ordinary members.
Ordinary Fianna Fáil men and women will, no doubt, have little stomach for senior elected representatives telling them that the hardships of €15 million in cuts over the next four years are vital to get the country’s economy back on track.
Behind closed doors, the criticisms of the party could very well sound like a bombardment from the Opposition, given the level of disquiet over the Government’s stance on national and local issues. Cuts in health services, the strangling of Shannon Airport by Dublin Airport Authority, the closure of Ennis agricultural office services, the scaling back of funding for community and voluntary groups, not to mention the question of Limerick City boundary encroaching into Clare are local issues that will give rise to heated debate.
Anger at the banking scandals will also be vented, not to mention the frustration being experienced by some people in getting finance for homes or to kick-start new enterprises.
The frightening haemorrhaging of jobs in construction, manufacturing and across other areas of enterprise will, unquestionably, cause the greatest outcry. How will Minister Eamon Ó Cuív, at one of a number of workshops, address the issue of job creation and unemployment without coming face to face with the elephant in the room – the very recent bleak news that over 200 jobs are to be lost at two high profile Shannon companies over the next couple of years?
The conference will leave Fianna Fáil with a very clear picture of what needs to be done in order to regain the confidence and trust of even the most diehard supporters in the Banner County. Not only will it be a wake-up call but it should also send alarm bells ringing about the future of the party. Diehards are a dwindling group; the loyalty of the remainder of the support base is being severely tested as we look to the possibility of a general election early next year.
Paris, the perfect gift
AMID all the gloom surrounding the 200 job losses at Shannon Free Zone, some good news has emanated from the adjoining airport this week. Aer Lingus, in the firing line for cutting services to the US over the winter months, deserves some kudos for its decision to fly the Shannon to Paris-Charles de Gaulle route from December 17.
It will be the perfect Christmas present for the airport and the West of Ireland.
The service, which will have three weekly return flights, will see Shannon deliver connectivity for the west to one of the world’s foremost aviation hubs. The announcement comes just two weeks after the recent expansion of Aer Lingus Regional’s Shannon-Manchester service.
The new French connection more than compensates for the loss of the Ryanair Shannon to Paris Beauvais service from Friday, as Charles de Gaulle provides far greater options for onward flights. Paris is one of the world’s most visited cities by tourists and business people and Charles de Gaulle is a key aviation hub, with onward connectivity to more than 200 non-stop destinations.
Shannon Airport director, Martin Moroney, who only a few weeks ago said “a vision for a sustainable future is being progressed”, is well satisfied with the turn of events.
“Along with our existing Aer Lingus services to Heathrow, this ensures that Shannon now has outstanding onward connectivity to all major destinations across the globe.”
He commended Aer Lingus on identifying and taking advantage of the significant demand that exists for services to Paris.
Shannon Airport Authority chairman, Brian O’Connell, said the ability to secure Aer Lingus services on the route so quickly is a major vote of confidence in the airport and the region.
Apart from providing Shannon passengers with a stepping-stone to the far-flung corners of the world, Paris can deliver a sizeable number of passengers back in this direction.
Tourism Ireland has had a promotional programme in place in France right throughout this year, placing significant emphasis on value for money that visitors can expect here. France provides the fourth largest block of visitors for the island of Ireland, delivering almost 400,000 tourists last year. It’s a question of trying to grow the market and get a fairly decent slice of the action for Shannon.
Shannon Airport and Aer Lingus must get wholehearted support from tourism and business agencies in promoting the new Paris service. The airport needs every possible break.