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“All of the dominance of Dublin Airport is directly as a result of their (FF and FG) policies, not because of Sinn Féin’s policy," said Deputy O'Rourke

Henry: time for policy to address Dublin Airport dominance

IRISH aviation policy needs to change, new Shannon Group chairman Conal Henry told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications last week, but acknowledged that it would be difficult to make the changes required and that he didn’t have all the answers to what needs to be done.

He warned that if there isn’t an effective policy solution a meeting like the one he was attending will “take place over and over again” with people speaking about imbalance.

In general he said that one outlet having 87% of the market is something that would need to be adjusted.

“If we were a private business and 87% of the widgets were being made in one factory and 13% in another four we would re-evaluate our strategy.”

At the meeting Timmy Dooley claimed that in previous years Shannon Group had not been focused enough on aviation, which he said is by far the most important aspect of its operations.

He claimed that successes in terms of its property portfolio had been used to take the focus off a failure to increase passenger numbers, while he said aviation is the really important part of the Group’s remit.

“It masked the considerable decline of aviation traffic at a time when the passenger numbers through the country were growing exponentially.”

He said this had been a failure of strategic direction of the board at the time, and he said he didn’t “want to hear another line of slurry” about the success of Shannon Group if the airport was not succeeding.

Mr Henry said that Dublin gets a disproportionate share of Irish traffic compared to its population and the distribution across the State is “very, very lopsided”.

He also said the State had “missed a trick when we let a second runway be built up here (Dublin).”

Some of Shannon Group’s tourist attractions are in the process of being transferred to Clare County Council and he said he was confident that can be progressed.

“There are issues that need to be ironed out and I’m confident that they can be ironed out.”

In response to a question from Clare TD Cathal Crowe he insisted he would be very committed to Shannon. “I’m not a guy who passes through” he said, while pointing out he had been involved in other organisations and businesses for long periods of time.

He also praised Shannon’s management. “I’ve seen my fair share of management teams and this is a very good one.”

Returning to the issue of Dublin’s dominance, he said that the fact there are four airports in the south and west of Ireland, and just one in the east, means that there is less route density away from Dublin.

He said that resolving the issues would “require some very tough political thought processes.”

When asked about the airport’s marketing he said, while there could be improvements, it’s not the critical issue.

“I think we can do better, but if I’m honest, policy is the issue here.”

Mr Henry said that there would be a need “to be imaginative and to do things that are difficult politically.”

He said that there isn’t enough route density at any of Cork, Knock, Kerry or Shannon.

“All those four airports are watching each other and trying to steal business off each other, but meanwhile most of the traffic is going to the east coast.”

“I think there are enough passengers in the western half of Ireland to create a fairly significant aviation proposition. How do we do that? I think we probably have to rethink the whole lot.”

About Owen Ryan

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.