The development of a new multi-million euro global logistics centre for European Union humanitarian aid and an aviation education centre in Shannon Airport will be prioritised in a new plan to revitalise the airport, Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore has pledged.
According to Mr Gilmore, Shannon Airport has the necessary infrastructure to facilitate a new centre where emergency food and medical supplies could be stored before being transported to a disaster zone after a global emergency.
If, as expected, Labour and Fine Gael form the next government, Mr Gilmore pledged the new administration would be looking at a number of ways to attract new business and increase passenger numbers at the airport.
“The EU has a new role in the area of emergency aid. However, it has never put in a logistical framework to achieve this objective. The Labour Party will be looking for Shannon Airport to become part of a logistical hub in the whole area of emergency aid for the EU.
“As part of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU has appointed a permanent foreign affairs representative and one of the new competencies is for development aid. Ireland has huge experience in the area of emergency and development aid and Shannon Airport can play a key role in how this aid is distributed,” he said.
The possibility of Shannon becoming a humanitarian aid centre is included in the Clare County Development Plan 2011-2017, following a submission last year by Brian Byrne of Atlantic Way, who is a development director with Shannon Aerozone. At the time, he said “while such a centre is still only at a conceptual stage, the Government are interested in it”.
Deputy Gilmore said wider use must be made of Shannon Airport, given its importance to the region. He also confirmed Labour also supported the development of the Cargo Lynx Hub in Shannon, which would also complement the provision of the humanitarian aid centre.
Asked if the Labour Party would grant autonomy to Shannon Airport with debt-free status, he said he favoured the best approach to grow business but felt people were spending too much energy concentrating on administrative structures.
Having visited a number of Irish tourism agencies in the United States last November, he recalled one of the key difficulties, which emerged from discussions, was the reduction in the number of airports flying into Ireland. He stressed the problem of access into Shannon had to be addressed through increased marketing abroad.
Mr Gilmore is confident that Michael McNamara would be elected because he is an “impressive candidate with a unique set of skills as a barrister and farmer”.
“I believe the Labour Party will win a seat in Clare. The Labour Party has had a history of TDs in Clare and the early signs from our canvass are that Clare is rallying around Michael McNamara. Clare people want to see change and the Labour Party is synonymous with change.”
Would Mr McNamara’s lack of political experience, even at county council level, be an electoral disadvantage? Deputy Gilmore said being a new candidate is actually an advantage as the electorate are looking for new people to get involved in politics. Mr Gilmore said he is very impressed with Mr McNamara’s campaign during the EU elections and declined to speculate about whether he would feature on the front bench of the Labour Party is elected.
Mr McNamara worked as a legal officer for the United Nations Office for Project Services in Afghanistan during a six-month stint in 2005.
Asked about the perception of Clare as a “Fianna Fáil county” and the inclusion of John Hillery, son of the late President Patrick Hillery on the Fianna Fáil ticket, he stressed he didn’t think any county was a colony for any party or was owned by any party.
“Clare people will make up their minds in this election irrespective of history. This is a very different election. For the first time ever, we have the prospect of having a Government led by Labour. I am not concerned what other parties are doing or how many candidates they are running,” Deputy Gilmore said.