*Photograph: Joe Buckley
Local politicians in Clare have disputed the views of their national counterparts when it comes to filling a high-profile vacancy at Shannon Group.
Shannon Group has been without a Chairperson since Rose Hynes’ additional twelve month contract extension expired in August. Last month, Aaron Forde the ex Chief Executive of agri-business Aurivo was announced as her successor but Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan (GP) was forced to scrap his appointment when a series of distasteful old tweets emerged.
Clare’s Government TDs, Cathal Crowe (FF) and Joe Carey (FG) had called on Minister Ryan to re-start the process of appointing the new Chairperson following the controversy.
However, on Monday, a motion from Cllr PJ Ryan (IND) seeking Minister Ryan to “restructure the Shannon Group board and appoint a chairperson to ensure that Shannon and Co. Clare are ready and open for business when world travel and tourism return to normal” was unanimously backed.
A feeling that “Clare will be left behind” exists among business personnel, Cllr Ryan stated. He felt the Board needed to be comprised of individuals with an interest in Shannon Airport and the surrounding area.
He added, “It is important that whoever chairs the board has a knowledge of aviation and airports as a whole, otherwise when the skies are open Shannon Airport will be left behind and our county will be the poorer for it. I know people have called for Minister to delay it, the proper person is out there if people in the Department put their hands together and find the person”.
An attempt to appoint Forde was described by Cllr Ann Norton (IND) as “a shambles” and a move which demonstrated that “there is very little thought of Shannon Airport”. The Barefield commented, “How are we supposed to attract business to the area, if our Airport is not being looked at seriously by the Government. Something is seriously wrong with the Minister for Transport if he can’t put somebody into the job”.
There was a “hap-hazard approach” to filling the vacancy, Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) believed. He queried what a restructuring of the Board would entail but pressed the need for Clare County Council representation within the Group. “We are all in support of Shannon International Airport being supported to the level it deserves”.
Top class marketing skills and an excellent knowledge of aviation are among key traits for the chosen person, Cllr Pat Daly (FF) surmised. “Shannon is losing out hugely to Dublin Airport when you see thousands coming to the Cliffs on a daily basis. Domhnall Slattery is a top class aviation man, I wondered was he approached. I would hope the Minister acts quickly because Shannon is losing out in a big way”.
Attention of the national media for Shannon Airport only appears to come for negative reports, Cllr Pat McMahon (FF) felt as he referenced the failed appointment of Forde and the breach of COVID-19 guidelines by US troops. “The board itself would appear to be weak or didn’t come up with many suggestions, whether they were constrained I don’t know,” he added. “Now is the time to put our ducks in place for when the virus is down. The urgency to put a proper leader and team in place is very clear,” Cllr John Crowe (FG) remarked.
Possessing an aviation background is critical for the job spec, Cllr Pat O’Gorman (FF) detailed. He highlighted the ongoing developments in Shannon Industrial Estate and Westpark. “There is a major hub for aviation in Shannon, if we have the right man in the Airport, you have the infrastructure and road network, if the right man is in place the spin off will be there”. He apologised when corrected by Cllr Norton to say the right candidate could also be a woman.