*Photograph: Arthur Ellis
Shannon Airport’s economic importance to the Mid-West region was stressed on Friday last as a special meeting focused on jobs within Clare was held.
Twenty two of the twenty eight councillors in Clare along with all five Oireachtas members attended the gathering which was called by Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council, Cllr Cathal Crowe (FF).
Deputy Joe Carey (FG) stressed the importance of Shannon Airport to the region in sustaining employment. “Shannon Airport is the key catalyst, it is the driver of economic activity in Mid-West and along the Western seaboard”. He praised Shannon Group for bringing occupancy in the Shannon Free Zone “from forty percent to ninety four percent”. Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) reiterated his view on the “positive work” done by Shannon Commercial Properties in attracting more businesses to the region.
Although he and Pat Breen (FG) welcomed the addition of routes to Paris and Barcelona, Timmy Dooley (FF) felt change was needed to benefit the Airport. “The two new routes is a good move by Aer Lingus but it won’t solve the issues at Shannon, there are still big issues there. Public policy needs change”.
Minister for Transport, Shane Ross finally visited Shannon Airport in October, following an invitation from Dr Michael Harty (IND) who stated there was “good interaction” with members of Shannon Group and the Minister. Harty said the Board had “three big asks” of the Minister which were; connectivity, access to regional airport funding and a funding mechanism which would allow Shannon Airport develop its hangar facilities and aviation maintenance”.
Better promotion of Shannon as a town was essential for flyers to choose the International Airport, Cllr Roisin Garvey (GP) suggested. “Shannon is the best town to cycle in Ireland, it has the best lanes for the width of an urban town in Ireland. There is no sign promoting the town, only sign I saw was for Starbucks which is an American company, people don’t come to Shannon to go to an American company. We have to diversify, I would like to promote Shannon more as a good place to be”. She stressed the potential for green tourism in the county and that there should be a rail line in Shannon, “You should be able to cycle from Shannon to Bunratty or Ennis or the Burren, that’s what people are expecting in the Emerald Isle”.
Clare County Council’s absence of a voice on the Board of Shannon Group continues to be an issue, Cllr Pat Hayes (FF) flagged, “There was no political influence to appoint our CEO to the Board of Shannon Group. We need to look back on people like Brendan O’Regan who said there is a counter balance to these cites. If we don’t start fighting we’ll be left behind, 90% of people are going through Dublin Airport”. Council Chief Executive, Pat Dowling replied, “All we seek with Shannon Group is real partnership, it’s in our county”.
“We started off talking about job losses and we’ve gone onto Shannon Airport,” Cllr PJ Ryan (IND) acknowledged. He said he had been “heavily involved” in promoting the Airport in the last quarter century, “I applaud them for getting the new routes but I will apologise to nobody for criticising the Board”. He added, “The fact they’ve got up off their own backsides and did something may not have been all their own initiative, they may have finally listened to other public representatives”. Ryan urged the TDs to continue talking about Shannon and urged the Government to look into an aviation policy.
Ennis’ Cllr Pat Daly (FF) was happy to see three routes added over the past two weeks but warned. “It’s so quite from 3pm to 7pm that you playing a hurling match in Shannon Airport. You can even bring down Shane Ross and he can referee it”. In response, Pat Breen highlighted that the new routes would bring more Spanish and French visitors to Co Clare, “It is the first step to Shannon becoming a hub to America”.