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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] An example is PayPal's decision to locate in County Louth. The Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, was involved in the campaign in respect of Dell, the facility of which is now idle. We all know that PayPal considered two facilities for location of its operation, the Dell facility and another in County Louth, and opted to locate in County Louth. While there have been many promises of jobs there have been no substantive announcements of same. The announcement of jobs at Shannon Airport are jobs on the never never. The public is entitled to know, when an announcement of jobs is being made, if in reality jobs are in the pipeline for the region and through whom they will be provided.

While I welcome this proposal in principle I have reservations about it. It is hoped that what is proposed will work. However, we are living in the real world and Shannon Airport is losing €8 million per annum. The realistic assumptions that must be arrived at to substantiate those losses are not contained in what we are hearing.

Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary I thank Deputy Collins for sharing time with me. I have serious concerns about this proposal on the basis of its affect on the future of Ireland West Airport at Knock. It appears once again that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is determined to proceed with protecting the monopoly that is the current State airports at the cost of airports which are community-owned and have been in the past 30 years, in particular in the case of Knock Airport, driven by community-owned partnership. I acknowledge that substantial Exchequer support has been provided to Knock Airport. However, when this is compared with the type of support given to Dublin, Cork and Shannon Airports, it is minimal.

Some 700,000 passengers travelled through Ireland West Airport Knock this year. The 110 people employed there support 900 jobs in the region. This is the type of progress being made at an airport which 30 years ago was considered a waste of time, ironically by the same parties now in Government. The reason Knock Airport has done so well is that it has been responsive to passenger need and demand, to the just-in-time turnaround for the low cost airlines and to the opening up of new markets across the Continent. It has tried, without much support, to break into new markets in the transatlantic sector. Its success was evident in its first year of operation in terms of passenger numbers. While service issues have arisen these will be followed up if the airport is lucky enough to secure another transatlantic operator.

The business plan for Shannon Airport has not yet been published. However, we are told that one of the targets in that plan, in terms of growing passenger numbers, is for it to recover lost passengers from Kerry and Knock Airports. Does the Government really expect me to support this? I am astonished that a Cabinet would support a business plan that involves the cannibalisation of other airports and threatens jobs in other airports to support the State monopoly. Anything that creates jobs is welcome. However, we are being sold this notion on the basis that there are job announcements in the pipeline, in particular hundreds of jobs around aircraft maintenance and so on. Ireland West Airport Knock identified the potential in this regard some years ago. It also proposed the use of Knock Airport as a hub for development aid. While the innovation came from Knock Airport the ball is now being carried by those who lacked that innovation but who have State support.

The people of Mayo are not against the development of Shannon Airport. What they want is recognition of Knock Airport as an international airport and an intrinsic part of our aviation policy. It is an airport deserving of that. In moving this motion now ahead of a national aviation policy, we are putting the cart before the horse. We are dismissing the role of other airports in the country to has-beens even though passenger demand indicates they are very much part of the future of Irish air travel. I am astounded that a Cabinet which comprises a Taoiseach from my constituency would endorse this proposal and would not engage in any meaningful way with the management and board of Ireland West Airport Knock. I gather there is to be a meeting next week. However, the horse will have bolted by then.

The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, stated earlier this year that unless Government policy changed Knock Airport would outgrow Shannon Airport. Government policy has changed. Shannon Airport has the golden ticket, debt write-off and substantial funding to enable it cannibalise the other airports in the region. That is not right. Rather than support job growth, this will discourage it. This will not encourage any new airlines into the airport, rather it will encourage the displacement of airlines from existing airports. It will not open up any routes, rather it will encourage the displacement of existing routes. The Minister of State can shake his head all he wants. He is a good man for making promises on the ground.

Deputy Collins referred to the empty Dell facility.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly That happened under Fianna Fáil's watch.

Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary The Government has not done a great deal with it since taking office.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly Who is responsible for it being empty?

Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary The reality is-----

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley There were a lot of promises made about filling it.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey The Deputy is interrupting his colleague.

Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary -----that this Government is proceeding with a plan with no specifics, no targets and nothing against which progress can be measured. It is all confidential yet we are being asked to vote for it today. That is not a good way to proceed.

Deputy Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell I am delighted to take part in this historic debate. I have listened to the debate thus far. I think everyone is agreed that Shannon Airport could not continue as is for a number of reasons. It is impossible for anyone to compete with their employer. Shannon Airport was competing with the Dublin Airport Authority. The priority of the Dublin Airport Authority for some time has been terminal 2. It was important Shannon Airport was given independence in respect of its operations. While we may differ on many issues, I think we are all agreed on that core principle.

Shannon Airport has been in limbo for many years. This is no longer the case. The key focus now must be delivery of the infrastructure required to make this a resounding success. Deputy Calleary referred to a lack of targets. There are targets in terms of the creation of 3,000 to 3,500 jobs in the aviation sector and in respect of growth in passenger numbers by 1 million.

Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary At whose expense?

Deputy Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell The target is to bring in 1 million passengers using international airlines, including Transair, which has been mentioned in the media, and to be able to fly passengers from Shannon Airport to America, which will be new business for Ireland. That is a rising tide which will lift all boats. The Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, Deputy Dooley and I are Deputies from the western seaboard, which has always been exposed in terms of balanced regional development. There must be a counter pole to Dublin along the western seaboard. For this to happen, an international airport is required. We have such an airport in Shannon.

Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary We have two of them.

Deputy Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell Shannon Airport has the longest runway in Europe, a history in terms of transatlantic flights, preclearance for passengers and many other advantages, which we must exploit. I do not believe these could be exploited under the current model of the Dublin Airport Authority. If the attention of the DAA is on filling terminal 2, Shannon Airport will not receive the attention it requires.

Plans are always extremely important. How they are implemented is vital in terms of achieving success. From 31 December 2012 Shannon Airport will be independent of the Dublin Airport Authority. A Shannon Airport board will shortly be appointed, the first task of which will be to recruit a CEO. It is vital that CEO is highly qualified and has experience of managing a large operation.

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