WHILE he didn’t go as far as saying that there is no prospect of a deal with IAG on Aer Lingus in the absence of guarantees for Shannon, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe stressed that connectivity for the Mid-West will be a very important consideration, when he spoke to The Clare Champion.
“We’re looking at all of the consequences that the proposed bid could have for connectivity. I’m very much aware of how important connectivity is for the Shannon region and how important Shannon Airport is. I have said throughout all of this that national connectivity and the particular impact on our regions will be vital if a bid comes in,” he said.
There have been claims that even if guarantees for Shannon and Cork are built into an eventual agreement between the State and IAG, they will have no real legal standing. Asked if there are any precedents where guarantees have been given on future connectivity, the minister declined to give any example.
“I’d prefer not to answer that. My challenge is that if I give indications regarding how guarantees work elsewhere, it creates an inference regarding how we would evaluate a bid when it comes in,” he replied.
Since the IAG takeover has been mooted, there has been much comment in the national media about the importance of Irish connectivity, with relatively little said about the more specific issue of connectivity to regions.
However, the minister confirmed he will take into account the expected implications on particular parts of the country.
“I’ve always viewed national connectivity as having very important regional dimensions. The impact that a bid could have on all of our airports is a very important consideration to me in terms of how we would evaluate a formal proposal if it were to come in,” he outlined.
When Shannon lost its Heathrow connectivity to Belfast some years ago, there was a furore in the Mid-West, with thousands attending protests and businesses furious that a link they saw as vital to their operations had been allowed to be lost.
Minister Donohoe said that he is well versed on the events of that time and knows how crucial the Heathrow link is for Clare.
“We’re certainly aware of what happened to Shannon Airport and the consequences of what happened to the local economy between ’08 and ’09 when those slots were changed. The FG representatives have been at pains to stress to me the consequences it had for their county and for the businesses in it. That’s why I want to emphasise to yourself that when we talk about national connectivity, I’m very aware that national connectivity has very important regional dimensions and of the role airports like Shannon play in tourism and allowing businesses to sell their goods and services abroad, it’s something that’s well understood by me.”
The uncertainty around the takeover has dragged on for some weeks and Minister Donohoe wouldn’t give an indication of when a Government decision might be made.
“It’s difficult for me to say that because it does depend on the actions of IAG and the nature of the bid and discussions that they have. Because we are responding to that, and we are a shareholder that needs to be convinced, it’s difficult for me to place a time on it.”
He lauded Shannon’s performance since being separated from the Dublin Airport Authority.
“I think the airport has really translated the autonomy they have into a very strong business performance. I know the passenger performance at Shannon Airport has been very strong in recent months, they have gone through many years of decline and now they have stability and are showing encouraging signs of growth.
“I’m very confident that with the team that is there and the structure they now have, they are well capable of putting in a very good performance for Shannon in the future.”
When Shannon was given autonomy the Government had a vision for a huge cluster of aviation related jobs adjacent to the airport, but progress on that hasn’t been particularly rapid since the separation. However, he still feels more progress can be made on the creation of a strong aviation industry hub.
“There are already an impressive cluster of aviation-related companies in Shannon and it will just take time and work to develop that in the future, I’m confident there’s a good chance of making that happen,” he said.