January 31: Heathrow slots key to regional development, says O’Donnell

It is vital the Aer Lingus Heathrow slots, particularly in terms of regional development at Shannon and Cork, are protected, Deputy Kieran O’Donnell told the Dáil.

It is vital the Aer Lingus Heathrow slots, particularly in terms of regional development at Shannon and Cork, are protected, Deputy Kieran O’Donnell told the Dáil.

“As we speak, discussions are ongoing between International Airlines Group (IAG) and the Aer Lingus board in regard to a possible third bid,” he said.

“The stakes are extremely high for Limerick and the mid-west, where connectivity is vital. We have an enormous amount of foreign direct investment companies in the mid-west and west. Shannon Airport is the only airport along the western seaboard with Heathrow slots.”

In terms of the critical importance of the Heathrow slots, in 2007 Aer Lingus had its Shannon slots relocated to Belfast, he said. This heralded a period of downturn for Shannon. Since the restoration of those slots to Shannon the airport had recovered.

In regard to NewERA, which is part of the National Treasury Management Agency, and is tasked with providing advice to Government on its shareholding in Aer Lingus, Deputy O’Donnell asked what direction has the Minister and Government given to NewERA in terms of its assessment of any proposal, particularly in the context of protecting the strategic interests of the Heathrow slots.

In reply, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said following the announcements of recent approaches to Aer Lingus by IAG, the Irish Takeover Panel has deemed that Aer Lingus is now in an offer period.

“The takeover panel rules in regard to communications apply to all parties during such an offer period and all parties, including the Government as shareholder, must apply the highest standards of care to any statements made on the matter,” he said.

“I wish to make clear that should such an offer be made, we will take great care and exercise great caution in examining the pros and cons to Ireland of such an offer,” he said.

O’Dea outlines ‘injustice’ on lone parents

A “grave injustice” is being perpetrated against the most vulnerable group in society, namely, lone parents Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on Social Protection Willie O’Dea told the Dáil.

“Following a change introduced by the Government, from next July any lone parent who has a child past the age of seven years will no longer be categorised as a lone parent,” he said.

“Such a person will be moved to the Family Income supplement or Jobseeker’s Allowance, as the case may be. This is going to have huge financial consequences for a large number of lone parents throughout the country.”

He said the irony is that the Minister for Social Protection has repeatedly said that these changes were designed to incentivise lone parents back into the workplace.

“The supreme irony is that for a lone parent who is not working and simply staying at home and getting the Lone Parent Allowance, in financial terms this change will make no difference whatsoever. Such people will be in the same position financially before as after or after as before. However, the change will specifically hit working lone parents.”

One example is that of a lone parent who is also looking after an elderly relative, he said. This person has both child care and caring responsibilities and would lose, on average, €86 per week. This is because the recipient will only get the Carer’s Allowance in place of what he gets at present, which is the Lone Parent allowance plus the half-carer’s allowance. Given the change in the means test and the drop in the income disregard, lone parents who work for less than 19 hours per week and earn the miserly sum of €150 per week will lose a further €24. This amounts to a cumulative loss of €53 per week as a result of the changes made by the Minister.

In response, Minister of state Kevin Humphreys said reforms were introduced to the one-parent family payment scheme in budget 2012 to reduce the age of the youngest child to seven years for receipt of one-parent family payments.

“The final stage of this reform will take place on 2 July, when the age threshold will be reduced to seven years for all existing and new recipients,” he said.

“Exemptions are in place for recipients who have been recently bereaved or who are in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance for one of their children. The provisions can extend payments to certain one-parent families beyond the maximum age limit threshold for these customers. It is expected that approximately 30,000 customers will be affected by this reform in July and they will be fully supported by the Department in the transition to another income support payment.”