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Shannon won’t be left behind-Naughton

SHANNON will be supported to help it recover from the impact of the pandemic, Minister of State at the Department of Climate Action and Transport Hildegarde Naughton told the Oireachtas Select Committee on Transport and Communications Networks last week.

She told the Committee that of a new €26 million connectivity fund, €6 million will be ringfenced for the smaller regional airports, the greater sum of €20 million will be for the other airports, including Cork, Dublin and Shannon.

Questioning the Minister, Clare TD Joe Carey asked, “With regard to the €26 million connectivity fund agreed with Europe, how does the Minister of State intend for this money to be spent? Has a decision been made in that regard? Is it up to different airports to bid for it? Will Shannon Airport get a particular proportion of that €26 million fund?”

Replying, Ms Naughton said, “Some €6 million of the €26 million fund is allocated to the regional airports in Knock, Kerry and Donegal. The remaining €20 million is allocated to the other airports. It is up to the individual airports to assess their needs as regards required funding and to make applications to the Department. I understand that work is under way and that engagement has commenced. It is absolutely critical that we ensure our airports are protected, and I include Shannon Airport and the mid-west region in that. The Deputy can be assured of my commitment to ensuring that protection. That is why we have put in place significant funding for all of our airports, so that they can negotiate directly with airlines and ensure that their operational and capital costs are covered. They know best what their needs are. That is the way it should be. They are commercial entities and were thriving before the Covid-19 pandemic. It is important that we enable them to thrive again.”

She said that there has been plenty of communication with the crisis hit aviation sector. “We are constantly reviewing the situation and we are in constant contact with the aviation sector. My officials in the Department are in contact with the sector every week. I met representatives of the chambers of commerce in the region and I share their concerns about tourism. We are very reliant on international travel and what happens internationally affects us greatly, in addition to what happens here domestically. That is why we are looking at what our European partners are doing with regard to the roll-out of the vaccine and the potential for digital certificates. We are also looking at what the UK is doing, which includes the roadmap to be published on April 21.”

Deputy Carey also raised the appointment of a chair of the board of Shannon Group. and responding Ms Naughton said it is “abolutely critical” and is something the Minister for Transport has been working on.

At the same sitting, Deputy Cathal Crowe urged that support be given for key routes at Shannon. “I know that across Europe, there was an easing of the rules that typically applied to the holding of landing slots at hub airports but from midsummer onwards, we need funds to attract new routes and retain existing ones. It is essential. We will need to see PSO routes out of airports like Shannon. It will be all the more essential now with Brexit. Shannon and the west of Ireland, and the Minister of State is from the west, are all the more peripheral geographically since the UK crashed out of the EU. We have the onslaught of Covid. It is a perfect storm and unless we have key connectivity into hubs guaranteed once international air travel gets under way again, we are kidding ourselves. I hope the Department will do everything it can in terms of route retention.”

About Owen Ryan

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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.