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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 Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett] Sadly, Michael O'Leary's concerns are ill-founded because, like with many of these quangos or established semi-State operations, moving them a little further away from direct State control into some sort of quango is a stepping stone towards privatisation. All the commercial pressures that drive companies towards privatisation will now begin to operate on Shannon because its most profitable component has been removed and because the hopes for a major expansion in passenger numbers are absolute fantasy, particularly against a global background of falling passenger numbers and economic crisis in this country and in Europe.

The idea that Shannon Airport will be able to increase civilian passenger numbers significantly is pie in the sky. What will happen is that Shannon Airport will be pushed into further dependence on US military traffic. This process has been apparent for quite a while, but it will accelerate now. If one were a conspiracy theorist - I am not - one would wonder whether matters such as this were discussed by the Government with US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, during her visit last week. There is certainly no doubt about the key role Shannon Airport has played in facilitating the US war machine nor about how important the US Government considers Shannon to be in propping up its war machine. It was no coincidence, for example, that when President Obama was visiting Moneygall he made a point of saying how important Shannon Airport was and how grateful the US Government was for the facilitation of the US military there. With the economic viability of Shannon Airport seriously under question, undermined and under pressure as a result of the Government's proposal, the pressure to expand its facilitation of the US military machine will increase significantly.

It is worth pointing out what the terrible cost of this has been for a country that is supposed to be militarily neutral and which has asserted in its Constitution that we should in no way play any part in facilitating military conflict on the international stage or participate in wars. For ten years now, since the horrors of the 9/11 obscenity that took place in New York and the war on terror that ensued, we have seen the barbaric war in Iraq claim 1 million lives or more, tens of thousands of lives claimed in Afghanistan and the abomination of the US rendition programme, where the most powerful and supposedly most democratic and civilised state in the world engaged in routine kidnap and torture of alleged terrorist suspects and maintained places like Guantanamo Bay, where people are left for years without trial. The fact that Shannon Airport is part of that architecture is appalling. Our current President has been very forceful on this over the years and has called for an end to it. The Labour Party, prior to the election, said it was utterly opposed to the use of Shannon Airport to facilitate the US war machine, yet here we are about to adopt a measure that will put further pressure on Shannon Airport to depend on this traffic in order to sustain itself as a viable entity.

With the austerity, the economic crisis and all the other terrible things happening in society, this matter will pass under the radar for most people. In some ways this is understandable, but it is vital to register opposition and protest against this move and its implications in terms of deepening Ireland's involvement with the US military machine as it continues to engage in its brutal war mongering in Afghanistan. This comes at a terrible cost to the people there. We know economic crisis and military conflict go together historically. Sadly, given the deepening global economic crisis and the huge instability we see in areas like the Middle East, it is quite probable we will see further military ventures conducted by the United States over the coming years. Again, Ireland will be involved in those as it is becoming a kind of outlying military base for the United States war machine. This motion, to separate Shannon Airport from the Dublin Airport Authority will move it even further in that direction.

I oppose this motion strongly and appeal to the Government to understand that what airports should be is part of our vital civilian infrastructure. They deserve to be subsidised - this goes for Knock and other small airports - because they are part of our vital infrastructure. They should not be dependent on the toings and froings of the global market and certainly should not be dependent on the war machine of the United States or anywhere else.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey I call Deputy McNamara, who will share his time with Deputy O'Mahony. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara I thank the Chair for the opportunity to speak on this important motion for the constituency I represent, Clare. I understand the Opposition spokesperson, who is also from the constituency, Deputy Dooley, has outlined his opposition to this measure. I do not wish to characterise unfairly what he has said and I understand his opposition is two-fold, first he is concerned that the plan is overly ambitious and second, that Aer Rianta International will remain with the Dublin Airport Authority. I note the Deputy assents to that characterisation of his opposition.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley The second part, not the first.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara I will deal first with the criticism that the plan is too ambitious. I make no apologies for the fact the plan is ambitious. I recognise there is a risk. There is always a risk when one tries to do something. Abraham Lincoln said that when one tries, there is always the danger one will fail, but if one does not try, it is certain one will fail. I am very much heartened by the fact the Government has an ambitious plan for Shannon Airport. This plan seems to be successful to date and I hope it will be successful into the future.

  Like me, Deputy Dooley will know there is not unanimity in any party on any issue, be it a budget or be it the separation of Shannon Airport from the Dublin Airport Authority. He will also know that the mayor of Clare, a decent man, speaking about the planned separation, said recently:

  Any airport that relies on a single airline for a large proportion of traffic leaves itself open to a collapse of business if that operator pulls out. We have seen this happen in Shannon in the past, but I believe recent service announcements by Delta, Aer Lingus and United Airlines herald a new beginning at the airport.

I thank the mayor of Clare for putting his constituency and the future of Shannon Airport above narrow party interests.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley The Deputy will be aware that all happened under the current regime.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara I also thank the mayor of Ennis for doing likewise, when he urged everyone to get behind plans for the independent Shannon Airport, saying it is critical for the local economy and employment in the town.

With regard to Aer Rianta International, I wish to cite a recent article by Mr. Liam Skelly, a former director of Shannon Airport. He lives in the same parish as I do and he knows Shannon Airport intimately. Speaking about the debate which took place on the State Airports Act, a long time ago when Deputy Dooley was a Senator, he said the solution proposed and to be voted on was as follows: Dublin Airport was to get immediate autonomy with enhanced status. Shannon and Cork airports were to get a kind of satellite status and the Aer Rianta International division of Shannon Airport was to be gifted to Dublin Airport, now called Dublin Airport Authority, the accumulated profits at 2004 amounting to €104 million, to be included.


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