*Photograph: Joe Buckley
The EU travel scheme to allow international travel looks set to take effect in Ireland from mid-July, but this is scant consolation for the Aer Lingus (EI) Shannon staff.
It is too little, too late for them as the base is set to close and, as soundings from EI management would have us believe, there is nothing that will reverse that decision. Communications from management have been consistent and, in an email, to staff this week, were reiterated: post pandemic Aer Lingus will be a much smaller airline. Whereas flights by our once national carrier may well resume from Co. Clare, they will likely be operated by staff from other bases. The loss of 130 jobs to the region is a huge blow, as is the connectivity at a time that we are hoping aviation can get off the ground once again.
Speaking on Monday morning on RTÉ radio, Taoiseach Micheál Martin vented his displeasure at the closure at Shannon, however, he and his Government share a lot of the blame for this. Ireland, inexplicably, remains an outlier in Europe in not having an aviation recovery plan. This is set to be announced on Friday by Government, but once again, this is too little, too late. Ireland being the only European country with a mandatory hotel quarantine was the death nail in the coffin for many aviation jobs.
For this reason, the closure of Shannon is absolutely nothing that opposition parties can chastise Government over. Each and every one of them advocated for extreme Covid policies that have led to this. Be it hotel quarantine, and those who were advocating other Zero Covid policies, they have contributed to the hardship this industry faces. There were precious few political voices calling for some sense, like the rapid roll out of digital green certs and widespread use of antigen testing. We all know who they are at this point and they should be thanked for standing up for people’s livelihoods.
As domestic tourism and hospitality return over the next couple of weeks, Clare needs to put its best foot forward to ensure more jobs are not lost in the county and the economic recovery can start off on a good foot. Firstly, I cannot but encourage people in the Banner to support our own. As much as we all want to get around the country and see somewhere else, and we will, there are many great tourist attractions and hospitality businesses that will be screaming out for business in Clare too. For those who can afford it, make sure you get yourself out to dine at and visit these establishments/attractions and get our own economy ticking over again. I for one cannot wait to get to my local, sit outside and enjoy a pint with friends I’ve not seen in far too long. I hope to see as many of you reading this as possible around the county as I do.
We also need to give businesses the right conditions to thrive. Ennis, Kilrush, Lahinch, Killaloe and other towns and villages in Clare were practically made for alfresco dining; weather permitting! It is up to the Council to give them the space in which to do so and ensure there are no financial impediments to people getting into urban spaces to support these businesses. I think it a good idea on weekends to give a morning grace period, up to noon, on parking to allow people park overnight in certain carparks, safely enjoy themselves, and collect their car in the morning, thereby encouraging people into our towns and villages. It will also encourage shoppers into town in the early morning to do their shopping. Pedestrianisation is all the range in Cork, Dublin, Galway and many other towns and villages across Ireland as businesses get the space and freedom to safely maximise reopening. It boggles the mind to think there are a cohort in Ennis opposed to it when the benefits are so obvious to most people. With enough hardship on the county over the past 18 months, let us give ourselves the best chance to thrive.
There is nothing more welcoming than a couple of vibrant streets one can freely stroll through to shop, eat and drink along the way without cars taking up half the space. Along the main streets of Ennis, there is scarcely a business that is more than 100m from a car park as it is. The couple of dozen on street parking spaces will not be a massive loss and in all my years, I don’t recall once even seeing a car travelling down O’Connell Street suddenly stop to buy something the driver saw in a shop window. Cars are not needed here. People are.
Leadership doesn’t just come from central Government but from people on the ground in our communities too. Let’s band together and get the county back on its feet.