CLAIMS by Minister Leo Varadkar that Knock Airport is on course to overtake Shannon on passenger numbers have infuriated business interests in the Mid-West.
And Fianna Fail TDs suspect there is an “agenda” at work to promote an airport in Enda Kenny’s heartland that flies in the face of the facts.
One businessman who spoke to the Limerick Leader said Minister Varadkar’s “insistence that the Government is moving away from subsiding private airports doesn’t hold any water in relation to Knock”.
“People are up in arms in Galway that their funding has been cut. Not only has Knock managed to avoid that but it also got over €4 million in capital funding in November. It’s all very well for Leo Varadkar telling Limerick Chamber the government is moving away from supporting private airports. But people in this region have every reason to be worried when they see this kind of investment going into Knock on the same week Enda Kenny was sitting down with Michael O’Leary announcing four new routes,” he said.
On the strength of those new routes - to Barcelona, Frankfurt, Milan and Paris - Knock managing director Joe Gilmore predicted traffic would grow 10 per cent on the 2011 figure of 650,000 passengers. While Shannon’s numbers are in decline, that level of growth at Knock would come nowhere near the 1.6 million passengers handled at the Mid-West airport in 2011.
Fianna Fail’s Deputy Timmy Dooley has taken issue with “a recent local radio interview” given by Minister Varadkar that numbers at Knock were “reasonably likely” to overtake Shannon’s in 2012. “There is absolutely no evidence to support this whatsoever. Shannon is currently accommodating close to 900,000 passengers more than Knock,” he said.
And his colleague Deputy Niall Collins asked whether “Leo Varadkar has an agenda to promote an airport in the Taoiseach’s constituency above the main airport for the western seaboard, which is Shannon International Airport”.
The Limerick TD also criticised recent comments from Minister Brendan Howlin that he does not regard the Government’s 25 per cent share of Aer Lingus, and influence over its Heathrow slots, as a strategic asset. Fianna Fail had been heavily criticised by Labour and Fine Gael when the slots were taken from Shannon in 2007. “Political pressure” had helped return some services and Deputy Collins accused the coalition of “a u-turn of all u-turns” in its stance on whether the stake should now be sold off.