THE government must insist on legally watertight clauses around connections to Heathrow if it assents to any sale of its stake in Aer Lingus, according to a leading executive at Shannon-based multinational Element Six.
Ken Sullivan, who was in the vanguard of the campaign by regional business leaders to preserve the Heathrow slots in 2007, said the Mid-West was “every bit as dependent now on Shannon-Heathrow services as it was back in 2007”.
Mr Sullivan was speaking as the board of Aer Lingus recommended shareholders accept a takeover bid from the IAG group subject to a number of conditions.
The government has retained a 25.1% stake in Aer Lingus and IAG has stated its bid is conditional on the government accepting the offer.
But some analysts predict that if the government - which must put the disposal to a vote in the Dail - does not sell its stake, IAG will go ahead regardless.
Mr Sullivan, meanwhile, said that if the government does sell, it must make it conditional on retaining connections between Heathrow and Shannon, Cork and Dublin.
“The Government, as a significant shareholder and in recognition of the threat this represents to the national interest, must reject any bid put to the board unless the contract of sale includes a clause that ensures existing services between the three Irish airports and Heathrow are protected. This must be the very minimum the Government insists on,” said Mr Sullivan, an executive director of the industrial diamond maker.
“As a company, Element Six is a regular user of the Shannon-Heathrow route. Shannon is the only airport on the entire western seaboard with access to Heathrow, which gives one-stop connectivity to so many key international markets.
“Not having this access is simply not an option for us. These services help underpin our presence in Shannon and any threat to them could be detrimental to this region’s ability to attract further foreign direct investment.”
Meanwhile, the regional director of employers group Ibec, Mairead Crosby, has said “any prospect of reduced frequency of access to Heathrow for Irish travellers would be a big concern, particularly for those using Shannon Airport.”
“Appropriate assurances” on Shannon should be sought from any prospective buyer, Ms Crosby said.
“Good connectivity is essential for the Mid-West region and the international access provided by Shannon Airport remains one the region’s key competitive advantages. It has been vital for attracting investors in key sectors such as ICT, pharma, financial services and medical devices.”