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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 Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell]   We then move to implementing the change vis-à-vis Shannon Development and its integration with NewCo. Shannon Development did fantastic work in the region for many years. It delivered many jobs and was the forerunner in establishing the Shannon free zone. We must, however, move to a new phase and Shannon Development will bring its expertise in various areas, particularly in aviation, to NewCo. We need an integrated plan because Shannon Airport is vital to economic development in the region. Passenger numbers are critical and we must remain focused on the fact that we are seeking to reach passenger numbers of 2.5 million. This plan is realistic and what is required is strong management and adequate resources to ensure Shannon Airport will continue to contribute to the region. It is vital for communities all along the western seaboard that the opportunities provided by the airport are exploited fully.

  The report makes reference to a 24 hour, 365 day a year service at the airport which will give Shannon a comparative advantage in international aviation and allow it to further develop the transatlantic market. That is why I am excited about the prospect of allowing airlines to touch down at Shannon Airport and from there fly passengers to transatlantic destinations, rather than their country of origin. The ability to offer pre-clearance to passengers provides enormous opportunities and Shannon Airport can be extremely competitive in this regard. Side by side with this is the matter of aviation services. The idea of an aviation services centre of excellence at Shannon is not new. Shannon Airport has been a pioneer in this area, with Guinness Peat Aviation, Shannon Aerospace and others located there in the past. The aim is to build on the existing level of expertise. There are 1,600 people already working in that sector at Shannon, with 230 working in the airport.

  As a Deputy from Limerick city, for me Shannon Airport has always been synonymous with the region and Limerick, in particular. Historically, areas such as Caherdavin on the north side of the city have had large numbers of locals employed at the airport and expanded on that basis. The airport must regain its premier place as an international airport and a provider of employment in the region. In that context, aviation services, in particular, are being targeted. I welcome the commitment made in the budget that tax incentives will be provided for the aviation services sector and hangar providers and I look forward to seeing the details.

  We have the expertise, infrastructure and workforce talent to have an independent Shannon Airport and show what the mid-west and western regions can do on their own. Deputies have referred to the fact that people have concerns about the plan. I can understand this from the perspective of the workers. However, when one examines the plan in detail and analyses the structures being put in place, one will see that a stronger, more vibrant future is possible for Shannon Airport as an independent entity rather than as an airport tied to the hind tail of the DAA. The lack of independence meant that the airport did not know where it stood and was continually looking over its shoulder in fear that flights would be diverted to Dublin. Often flights were pulled simply to fill a hangar and occupy Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport.

  The year of The Gathering is 2013; Limerick city will be the National City of Culture in 2014 and a feasibility study is being conducted of a proposal for a national Diaspora centre in Limerick. However, critical to any plan to have a national Diaspora centre in Limerick is an international airport on the city's doorstep that will be a gateway to the city and the wider region. An independent Shannon Airport can provide the flexibility, direction and energy to ensure we will meet the targets for jobs and passenger numbers. The measures proposed by the Minister are welcome and I hope the Opposition will agree, whatever about the details of the plan, that Shannon Airport needs to be independent of the DAA in order to take its rightful place in the aviation industry. From my perspective as a representative of Limerick city, we are entering an exciting period. This will prove to be a monumental decision on the part of the Government.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I wish to share time with Deputy Michelle Mulherin.

I welcome the debate, to which I wish to bring a different perspective by referring to Cork Airport which has not been mentioned by other Deputies. In the year to date 2.25 million passengers have passed through Cork Airport and that figure is expected to reach 2.4 million by year end, which shows that Cork Airport is the hub and gateway to the south. Seventeen new routes have been introduced at Cork Airport in the past two years, although the airport has also lost others and staff have expressed concerns about the future direction of the airport. Concerns have also been expressed about the loss of the slots at Gatwick Airport. The importance and potential of Cork Airport cannot be underestimated and I know the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Alan Kelly, as a Tipperary man, understands its strategic importance. Cork Airport is a hub and a gateway and acts as a counterbalance to Dublin Airport and Shannon Airport. It is important, notwithstanding the interests of Deputies on all sides, that we recognise that Cork is the capital of the south. It has a large metropolitan area and is the location of a large proportion of the farming industry. It is only two and half hours by road from Dublin and is even closer to places such as Portlaoise, Tipperary, Waterford and Kerry. The importance of Cork Airport, therefore, must be acknowledged.

Deputies have spoken about the importance of aviation services. Cork has lost its ferry link with Britain. The Gathering is expected to drive local economies next year. The issue of transatlantic traffic at Cork Airport has been tinkered with for a long time and we know what happens when tinkering takes place. We saw what two previous Ministers for Transport, the late Seamus Brennan and Martin Cullen, did when they tinkered with aviation policy. We now have a Minister and a Minister of State who are prepared to take decisions. In saying this, however, it is important that the Booz & Company report and the report of Ernst & Young on Cork Airport are placed in the public domain. It is imperative that there is a counterfoil for Dublin Airport in terms of aviation policy and Cork Airport is that counterfoil.

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