OFF we traipsed, or in this case trained to Dublin to hear the big announcement about the futures of both Shannon Airport and Shannon Development and somehow it jarred. Bigtime, because somehow it smacked of being the same old, same old. Smacked of the metropolitans versus the culchies; the pale and beyond the pale. Not in content and long-term substance, we earnestly hope, but in something.
Shannon, the airport that put Ireland to the forefront of world aviation – the old hub of an exciting age. Shannon, the pioneering airport that gave us duty free and the world’s first custom’s free airport. Shannon Development, that on the back of the airport’s strategic importance became the engine for industrial growth – in the mid west, in Ireland.
Shannon and Shannon Development that produced pivots of 20th century Ireland like Dr Brendan O’Regan from nearby Sixmilebridge – the great driving force of aviation, industry, tourism and much more.
It was former Clare TD of 20 years Dónal Carey who memorably roared on Clare FM back in 1993 that Fianna Fáil, by its decision to scrap the Shannon Stopover, had lost touch with life beyond the Naas dual-carriageway.
In a way this was something similar, simply because it was not too much to expect that ministers Leo Varadkar and Richard Bruton would move beyond the Naas dual-carriageway and come to Clare and Shannon when making their announcements.
If they were worried about the expense of undertaking such a journey, they could have car-pooled, tossing a Deutsche Mark between them to see who’d get to drive and claim the expenses; they could have got the train; they could have even tried bumming a plane ride from Christoph Mueller or Michael O’Leary.
Whatever they did and by whatever means and mode, they should have been in Shannon on Monday and not the National Convention Centre in Dublin. Shannon Airport and Shannon Development deserved that – at the very least. The mid west region did too.
Would they not deign to come down to Shannon because the new blueprint for airport and semi-state is not all as it seems – certainly that’s the gospel being propagated loud and clear from the opposition trenches that Fianna Fáil occupy, but then again the Soldiers of Destiny shouldn’t really be shouting from the roof tops of either Leinster House or the Rineanna control tower when it comes to Shannon or SFADCO.
They may have built Shannon and through Sean Lemass’ vision and that of Brendan O’Regan and TK Whittaker gave SFADCO its wings back in 1959, but they haven’t been the great defenders of the faith where Shannon is concerned over the past two decades.
It’s true that Fianna Fáil protestations about Aer Rianta International – basically that it’s an act of corporate theft that ARI is being highjacked by the Dublin Airport Authority that’s being facilitated by the Government – ring very true, but coming from Fianna Fáil it rings very hollow indeed.You see, in the years since ARI was founded in Shannon in 1988, Fianna Fáil have been a party of government for 20 out of those 24 years – if they were so concerned about ARI it would have been ring-fenced as a Shannon operation, first, last and always.
The time to have done this was back in 2004 when then Minister for Transport, Seamus Brennan, first announced the break-up of Aer Rianta by creating separate boards at the three state airports. This is when the Shannon Airport Authority came into being – ARI should have been part of the SAA, but it wasn’t done and Fianna Fáil alone are culpable for this failure.
Of course, Fine Gael and Labour still had it within their power to right this wrong, but they bottled it and ignored the legitimate and bona fide claims of the likes of Liam Skelly and Michael Hanrahan that ARI belongs to Shannon. They should know – they were the ones that helped build ARI into the global success story that it is today.
But it isn’t the first time that the Dublin lobby has won over those in the corridors of power. It happened in 1993 when Fianna Fáil turned its back on Shannon and instead listened to the Dublin shopkeepers and Bord Fáilte lobby groups and ended the compulsory stopover.
It’s happened again with ARI, but the irony of the whole Dublin lobby brigade is that only a couple of weeks ago Fáilte Ireland were on location in Clare championing Shannon Airport as a transatlantic destination in an effort to stimulate interest in its new Wild Atlantic Way initiative that aims to create Ireland’s version of the Great Ocean Road or the Garden Route all the way down the west coast.
ARI is gone – it’s been stolen from Shannon, but if we learned anything in Dublin, it’s now just time to get on with it. The airport is debt free, it’s independent, it’s been given the freedom to finally go out on its own.
Stand or fall. The latter can apply, because Shannon has always managed to find a way. That journey may well have started in Dublin on Monday. Definitely, if he were alive, that’s what Dr Brendan O’Regan would say.
All that remains is to find someone with his vision and his drive to head up the new Shannon Airport operation. Get that woman or man and Shannon will fly once more.
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