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24/09/2021

WATCH: Ministers to seek urgent Aer Lingus meeting over Shannon base closure

MINISTERS are to seek an urgent meeting with Aer Lingus bosses in an effort to get them to delay the decision to close its base at Shannon Airport.

It comes after local Fine Gael TDs in the region held an urgent meeting this morning with their party leader, An Tanaiste Leo Varadkar. According to a statement from the group, he will team up with Transport Minister Eamon Ryan and Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton in a bid to seek the meeting.

The closure - which could see more than 100 roles in Shannon Airport made redundant - was also raised in the Dail today by city TDs Willie O'Dea and Maurice Quinlivan, plus Labour leader Alan Kelly.

Mr O'Dea described the move, which was announced yesterday afternoon as "totally disproportionate" and asked Taoiseach Micheál Martin if government has received any reassurance in terms of which routes the flag-carrier will maintain.

He outlined the importance of the link to London Heathrow and destinations in North America.

While Mr Martin did not address this question, he called on Aer Lingus to review its decision, and confirmed that ministers would seek to meet the airlines top brass.

"The entire thrust of government policy is to create proper regional development and balance in terms of economic  development. Shannon Airport is key to that. No effort will be spared to get international travel back," he added.

Mr Quinlivan described the news as "another hammer blow" to the region.

"This has the potential to be catastrophic for the Mid West region – the Shannon-London Heathrow connection and the onwards connections are vital to the people and businesses of the Mid-West region," he said.

He pointed out the 2015 sale of the State's share in the airline "now severely weakens" the government's hand.

"We warned at the time that Aer Lingus was of such strategic important to the state and the mid-West region that it must be kept in State ownership. My thoughts are with these workers and their families. The Minister for Transport has taken a hands-off approach to aviation for too long and aviation workers are paying the price," he told the sitting at Dublin's Convention Centre.

Mr Kelly, who represents Tipperary, asked: "Why in the name of God has the chairmanship of Shannon Airport left vacant for a year?  When it came to the decision this week, Aer Lingus had no-one to talk to. I've asked this question multiple times. It's ridiculous."

Shannon Chamber chief executive Helen Downes pointed out that just before the onset of the pandemic, in February 2020, Aer Lingus unveiled plans to expand its network from the base, with the addition of services to Paris and Barcelona.

"Air connectivity is a critical enabler of economic growth, most particularly for an island nation where so many jobs are dependent on the aviation and tourism and hospitality sectors. Government intervention is urgently needed, most particularly a roadmap to protect route connectivity to Shannon, including Aer Lingus slots, and Ireland’s regional airports," she added.

Limerick Chamber chief executive Dee Ryan said it was "a very disappointing" announcement, but "not inconceivable".

"Limerick Chamber has been flagging since the onset of the pandemic, the vulnerable position that otherwise viable airports outside of Dublin are in. In our meeting last September with Ministers Ryan and Naughton, we advocated for direct intervention in support packages for airlines that would commit to reinstating critical links to regional airports and developing further new ones," she added.

Mary Considine, the chief executive of the Shannon Group said: "Aer Lingus remains a valued partner, and we value our long-established and continuing relationship with the airline. We are committed to working with them and all our aviation partners on the restoration of vital services to and from Shannon Airport which are critical for business and tourism sectors."

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