THE US Ambassador to Ireland, Dan Rooney, on a visit to Clare this week, guaranteed that he would continue to suggest to President Barrack Obama to come to Ireland and specifically to Clare, and to fly into Shannon Airport.
At a forum in Ennis Town Council, the US ambassador, in response to concerns raised about the future viability of Shannon Airport, said he is “very supportive” of the airport and will do what he can to emphasise the importance of it for the region. He stressed that in his opinion the best short-term strategy for the airport is to develop as a cargo hub.
Fine Gael Deputy Pat Breen said this was a subject he discussed with Mr Rooney this week, when he had a private meeting with him. At the open forum on Wednesday, Mr Rooney said his office would be willing to help Shannon Airport’s case in any way it can. “One of the issues is the Dublin Airport Authority operates Shannon Airport. There is a need to start with ideas about the airport. Cargo is an area to explore much more as it will get aircraft back into Shannon Airport. When that’s developed, work can be done on passenger flights,” the ambassador said.
Deputy Breen added that for Shannon Airport to develop as a cargo hub, the Lynx Cargo Project must now be prioritised.
Mr Rooney said he is keen to expand the US pre-clearance facility at Shannon Airport, to include cargo. He added that his office was instrumental in achieving the facility for Shannon Airport and is anxious to develop it as a key service.
Deputy Breen said the ambassador also indicated that the US Government would continue to maintain its strong links with Shannon Airport, even though military traffic is set to decline significantly over the next few years. He said Shannon Airport has and will continue to have strong advocates in the corridors of power in Washington.
In response to questions from Councillors Michael Guilfoyle and Mary Coote Ryan about the possibility of President Obama visiting Clare, Mr Rooney said he is aware that the president “loves Ireland”. “I’ve told him a lot about Ireland and given what I’ve seen in Clare on this visit, I will strongly suggest that he come here also. I will also suggest that he come through Shannon Airport, as other US presidents did in the past,” he said.
Mr Rooney was also supportive of a proposal by Michael Houlihan that the annual Northern Ireland American Fund conference be held in Dromoland Castle next year. At the forum, Mr Houlihan, suggested that Dromoland and the region in general would be an ideal venue for the conference, and would be a wonderful opportunity for Clare to host a large group of American business people. The US ambassador has been strongly involved with the organisation over the years and said he would do all he could to progress Dromoland as the next venue for the conference.
Mr Rooney confirmed that his brother, Pat, has a holiday home in Lahinch and loves the Lahinch Golf Course. “He bought the house quite a long time ago and came over quite regularly. He sold it at one stage but quickly realised that he missed it and bought it back. He has only good things to say about Lahinch and that has influenced me too in my view of Clare,” the ambassador commented.