SENATOR Martin Conway has acknowledged the appointment of a senior minister from the Mid-West would have been beneficial for Clare but pointed there weren’t enough cabinet ministers to share amongst Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens in the new coalition.
Asked about the criticism of the lack of a senior minister from Donegal all the way down to Limerick, he acknowledged this was fair commentary but believes the new role for Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton will be a major boost for Shannon Airport.
He believes that the fact that Minister Naughton will have responsibility for aviation, international travel, road transport and logistics at the cabinet will be very beneficial for the Mid-West.
“What is the point having a senior cabinet minister with a portfolio that may not necessarily impact on us in the Mid-West.
“I think there is an awful lot more to be said to have someone sitting at the cabinet table holding a portfolio that can make a dramatic difference to the Mid-West in terms of Shannon Airport and getting the ring road completed in Galway, which would help a lot of North Clare people commuting to work.
“It is also important to ensure the new M20 Cork to Limerick gets completed, which would facilitate a lot of Clare people going in and out of college.
“The buck will stop with Minister Naughton in terms of delivering for Shannon Airport,” he said.
Asked about criticism of the outgoing government’s aviation policy, which favoured Dublin instead of Shannon Airport, Senator Conway recalled he proposed before the Covid-19 pandemic that passenger numbers should be capped in Dublin to limit further growth, which would mean that Shannon would be competing with other airports like Cork instead of Dublin for new business.
He isn’t convinced that giving Shannon Airport its independence years ago was the best strategy, despite a chorus of calls from business representatives and organisations supporting this move.
He believes if Shannon was still part of the Dublin Airport Authority it would have a responsibility to ensure Shannon got a certain percentage of business instead of competing with the international airport.
“Shannon was in trouble before Covid-19 but in ever crisis there is opportunity. The government can now give state aid to Shannon, which it could do before Covid-19,” he said.
He stressed Shannon Airport has to benefit from the proposed government stimulus package, which is expected to be announced later this month.
Senator Conway said there was never an expectation there was going to be a Fine Gael deputy from the Mid-West appointed as a senior cabinet minister.
The Ennistymon-based senator said the appointment of Hildergarde Naughton as a super junior minister with a seat at the cabinet table was more than what Fine Gael had previously from a West of Ireland perspective.
He admitted there was an expectation within Fine Gael that Dara Calleary would be appointed as a cabinet minister to represent the West of Ireland to carry on the role of outgoing Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring.
“I have known Dara Calleary from when I went into the Seanad in 2011 and student politics back in the nineties and I think he was unfairly treated. I have enormous sympathy from him,” he said.