ALREADY contentious, Shannon based Fine Gael Senator Tony Mulcahy has turned up the political heat regarding the potential sale of the State’s share in Aer Lingus, as he has vowed to resign the party whip if the Government does sell to IAG.
He made his comments after IAG CEO Willie Walsh addressed the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications.
Mr Walsh told the Committee that in the event of an IAG takeover, Shannon would get a five-year guarantee of Heathrow connectivity. However, after being quizzed by Senator Mulcahy, he acknowledged that he was not offering any guarantees around the preservation of the Aer Lingus services between Shannon and the US.
While Mr Walsh did say that transatlantic services from Shannon have “huge potential” and that the numbers travelling on them are likely to increase in the summertime, this didn’t cut much ice with Senator Mulcahy.
In a statement released shortly after the Committee sitting he said, “I cannot support any proposed sale of IAG as the risks are far too great for Shannon Airport, the regional economy and the people of Clare and the West of Ireland. Should the Government sell its shares to IAG I will resign the party whip and Fine Gael will no longer be able to rely on my vote.”
Speaking to The Clare Champion he said he had no faith that Aer Lingus transatlantic services would continue following an IAG takeover. “Quite bluntly, what you’d have is Boston-Heathrow, New York-Heathrow, and a back feed to Shannon. Shannon’s not going to be the hub, you can be sure of that.”
He said he has worked to help Shannon emerge from the crisis it faced a few years ago and would be disgusted to see some of the progress made being reversed. “I’ve my heart and soul put into that place over the last few years, trying to get something happening with the new management company who are top class people. I’d hate to see it given away again, this is critical for the western seaboard.”
Senator Mulcahy said that the region is dependent on US multi national companies and for this reason connectivity to America is very important, even though much of the focus has been on Shannon-Heathrow links since the IAG takeover proposal emerged.
He also said that if IAG were to extend its guarantee to take in transatlantic he would consider the matter again. “If he (Mr Walsh) came back with a five year guarantee around transatlantic I’d have another look at it and discuss it with the people I know in the airport.”
Senator Mulcahy is a former Mayor of Clare and stood for Fine Gael in the 2007 and 2011 General Elections before being elected to the Senate.