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Shannon Airport: Motion (Continued)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley] It will place an encumbrance on the Government to transfer Aer Rianta International to the new company at Shannon Airport as part of the divesting process. Having set out the economic reasons this should be done, I appeal to the House to support the amendment.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis My colleagues and I support the amendment to the motion. When the Government announced that Shannon Airport was to be separated from the Dublin Airport Authority, I gave the proposal a cautious welcome, bearing in mind the desire of local campaigners to have a prosperous and sustainable airport at Shannon. Those campaigners want Shannon Airport to remain publicly owned but are of the view that it being under the umbrella of the DAA has been a negative development, certainly in recent times. Their concern is that Shannon Airport has been relegated to being an auxiliary of Dublin Airport, which has made planning for a better, more efficient and profitable facility more difficult than it might have been if the airport had been afforded a greater level of independence. These are acceptable and understandable positions, but any plan to assign Shannon Airport greater independence must be based on the economic realities of the day rather than simply cutting the airport adrift to fend entirely for itself. Shannon Airport needs more independence, but it also needs a secure revenue stream in order to put its new model into practice and make a real drive towards achieving a more sustainable set-up.

The current plan, unfortunately, does not meet any of these requirements. It is based on a very rosy appraisal of the current economic climate and Shannon Airport's potential for growth in both the short and medium term. The reality is that passenger numbers have fallen by an average of 14% every year since 2007, including a reduction of 37.2% in 2010 and 7.4% in 2011. Clearly, something must be done to assist the airport in increasing passenger numbers and available routes and promoting itself as a real option for those travelling from the south and mid-west. Improved road infrastructure has facilitated travel from Dublin Airport, leaving Shannon Airport with an uphill struggle to claim its share of available business. I am not arguing that any publicly run airport should be competing against another publicly run airport, but Shannon Airport must be supported to claim its share of the market. Such support should be twofold, namely, ensuring a revenue stream and, second, affording the airport the independence to use that security to push forward and grow.

The major problem with the Government's plan is that the stripping of Aer Rianta International from the airport could potentially leave Shannon Airport in serious trouble. Aer Rianta International was started at Shannon, has always been based there and is making a profit in excess of €30 million a year. It is an essential component of any strategy to make Shannon Airport sustainable and turn the tide back in its favour. Its removal in favour of a very optimistic plan which hinges on the achievement of large growth in a short period is not good enough and is effectively setting Shannon Airport up for a fall. I have read the claims that the airport could be operating to a much higher potential in regard to its non-aeronautical business interests, with the fact that Shannon free zone outlets are operating at only 44% occupancy cited as potential for growth. There certainly is potential in this regard, but we must acknowledge that the low occupancy rate is a reflection of the incredible difficulty for small businesses in seeking to survive in a state in which their customer base is being hit again and again with cuts to their living standards. Hard graft and plans are not sufficient to make economic realities disappear.

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, has indicated that there is no way debts can be cancelled and Shannon Airport allowed to hold on to Aer Rianta International. That is nonsense. Shannon Airport would never have been able to pay these debts in any case and cancellation was merely a recognition of that reality. Removing Aer Rianta International as a trade-off will seriously damage Shannon Airport's chances of survival and serves no useful purpose. There is no real justification for its removal and the Minister has offered none.

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