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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 Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins] It is fair to say that the policy of successive Governments incentivised the establishment and creation of economic activity in the area. I will be up-front about this. I have said publicly that I welcome the decision but I have reservations about it, which I will articulate. Any decision that gives Shannon Airport a competitive edge should be welcomed, but I have reservations about the detail.

The position articulated by our spokesperson, Deputy Timmy Dooley, is perfectly reasonable. He put forward a proposition for Aer Rianta International which has been well aired and it has been well received within the region. He has been painted as a lone dissenter from the decision. However, he is on record, as am I, as saying that we welcome anything that will help the region in a positive fashion. We are taking a constructive approach to it but we will not go along with a herd mentality. Unfortunately, in the past ten days or two weeks we have seen a great deal of herd mentality. I have listened to many of the local contributors to the debates. They have said that this is great and that it is what they have been seeking for years. That is fine as a headline item, but what if one drills down to the next level? I was particularly taken by some of the editorials in the local newspapers over the weekend. The regional newspapers have a keen interest in Shannon. They took the same sceptical view of the proposal as we took. They have been critical of previous Governments and of some of the aspects of the stewardship of Shannon Airport, but they have also cast a critical eye over the viability of the business plan, and that is a fair point to make.

The growth of Aer Rianta International, where the idea was conceived and where the company was registered are well documented. It is a fair proposition to seek for some of the cashflow and profits to be ring-fenced as an insurance policy and a backstop for the future of Shannon Airport. The Minister has stated that the business plan is confidential, but I believe the public is entitled to expect some reasonable critiques of the assumptions. We have not been given too many of the assumptions in the business plan. Suffice it to say that passenger numbers are expected to grow by somewhere between 33% and 50% in an unrealistic timescale. The business community is asking for some of the detail of the business plan to be put into the public domain to allow a proper debate on its viability. The ring-fencing of some of the cashflow and profitability that flows from Aer Rianta International is a reasonable proposition to act as an insurance policy should the assumptions contained within the business plan not hold. This insurance policy will ring-fence the airport's viability in future. Unfortunately, given the current climate, we must consider the worst-case scenario. All we hear about in terms of the business plan is the target figures that must be hit. What if the targets for passenger numbers are not hit? What if there is a shortfall of 25% or 50% in the projected growth of passenger numbers in the region? These are all legitimate questions.

We have not heard from the Minister although I listened to him over the audio on my way to the Chamber. Who will be the head of corporate affairs in the airport? We have not heard from the Minister about his plans to recruit a chief executive of international repute. If we are to retain Shannon Airport as a leading international airport serving the region then we will need to recruit a leading chief executive for the region. We have heard about steering groups and interim boards, but it is important that the message is sent out from the Minister that he will put all his energy into recruiting an individual of significant reputation and standing to drive the airport forward in future as needed.

There have been several job announcements on foot of memorandums of understanding, but the public is entitled to hear a little more detail. As a former MEP who served the Limerick area, the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, will know that we are on the back foot with regard to job creation under this Government.

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