*Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Ennis in April. Photograph: Martin Connolly
Greater investment into Shannon Airport can not come at the expense of Cork and Knock, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recently told the Dáil while the Chamber also heard a call from Deputy Timmy Dooley for Chairperson of Shannon Group, Rose Hynes to be replaced.
Clare TD, Dr. Michael Harty (IND) brought the subject of Shannon Airport before Dáil Éireann in recent weeks. He stated that the Airport lacked “strong Government support” in promoting it as a gateway to The Wild Atlantic Way. Dr Harty described the airport as “an iconic institution” but flagged the grave concern within the county regarding its long-term viability. “The Government needs to step in to promote and protect Shannon Airport. If that involves changing its status or putting in place other mechanisms to allow it to develop and attract investment, that should be considered. A mechanism needs to be found to support new routes into the region”.
Beginning his response Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Shannon Airport had “a special place” in his heart. Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley accused Varadkar of “finishing” the Airport during his stint as Minister of Transport. “At the time of the airport being made independent, I set a target of reaching 3 million passengers. We are currently very far off that level. We need to examine how we can support the airport to develop new routes. We must be mindful that there are other airports of we must take account, such as Cork Airport, which is having a good year but had bad years in the past, Ireland West Airport Knock, which is doing well, and Waterford Airport, which is keen to get flights again. Dublin Airport receives no Government or State support,” the Taoiseach commented.
Varadkar felt Shannon’s routes to Heathrow and North America were “very strong” but added, “It lacks a route to a significant continental hub such as Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam or Copenhagen. If that could be achieved through marketing supports, it would be of real benefit to the airport. In so doing, we need to ensure we get it right. More flights to Malaga, Faro or Mallorca would be of little economic benefit to the region. If one provides route supports to an airport, one must ensure it does not cannibalise another. It is of no benefit to the country as a whole for a route to be moved from Cork Airport to Shannon Airport. I am interested in this issue. I have been in touch with the chairman of the airport and recently met her in Limerick. We are examining proposals in regard to how we could, in a meaningful way, assist the airport to get more routes”.
Harty expressed his view that the board of Shannon Group needed to be strengthened “rather than abolished or replaced” with Deputy Dooley urging the Taoiseach to get “rid of the Chairman”.
Concluding the discussion, Varadkar said, “Subsidising a new route that is just a route move from Cork to Shannon or from Knock to Shannon. That does not make any sense. Local authorities can get involved. I visited Knock Airport recently and I was enthused at the fact that not just Mayo County Council but seven local authorities in the region got behind that airport, not just with words but with money. I saw that in Waterford also with three local authorities, not just in Waterford, getting behind that airport with money. I encourage the local authorities in the mid-west to consider what has been done in the south east and at Knock and do the same”.