SHANNON’S Senator Tony Mulcahy is fuming after a formal complaint was lodged in Brussels that the Government’s move to separate Shannon Airport is in breach of EU competition law.
The Fine Gael politician has pleaded with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin to rein in his Sligo-based senator Marc MacSharry, who has written to the Directorate General for Competition of the European Commission claiming the manner in which Shannon has been separated from the DAA puts Knock Airport at an unfair disadvantage and distorts the market in Ireland.
When the independence of Shannon was confirmed in December, it provided for a write-off of over €100 million in debt and some initial working capital.
Knock Airport chief executive Liam Scollan said at the time that: “we consider what the Government is proposing to be unfair, a wasteful use of public resources and possibly illegal” and intimated Knock Airport could sue.
Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar replied that if Knock Airport, which is a private asset run by a community trust, was so concerned about grant aid, it could stop accepting handouts from the government.
And Rose Hynes, chair of the Shannon Airport Authority, said the plan for the separation of Shannon had taken account of any potential hurdles around the EU state aid regulations.
But this has not prevented Senator MacSharry lodging his complaint with the Commission in the last week.
“I am a supporter of Shannon Airport and any initiatives that assist in its growth and performance. However, the particular measures announced by the Transport Minister Leo Varadkar will unfairly pitch Shannon Airport against Knock. Shannon stands to benefit from an estimated total investment of €300 million while Knock is left to fend for itself,” he said.
“In my view, by supporting Shannon and ignoring Knock, the Government is not only unfairly distorting airport competition it is damaging the potential growth of the northwest region.”
But Senator Mulcahy has accused Fianna Fail of “gross hypocrisy” and “political opportunism”, particularly given “commitments made by the party while in Government to enforce the exact same changes that the present Government has introduced”.
“It is particularly disingenuous that a party that subscribed to the changes that have been introduced at Shannon have accused Fine Gael and Labour of manipulating a process which will ensure the demise of Ireland West Airport Knock. Senator MacSharry’s move represents the parochial politics that the people of this country have grown tired of. The simple truth is that Shannon is a special case and its future survival is critical to an entire region’s economic interests,” stated Senator Mulcahy.
“If Fianna Fail is interested in balanced regional development and the future growth of one of Ireland’s most important industrial centres along the Atlantic Corridor, Deputy Martin will insist that Senator MacSharry withdraws his ill-conceived complaint.”