I welcome the fact that finally a note of realism is entering the debate on the future of Shannon Airport. I welcome the Minister’s invitation to the Shannon Board for its views on how it would see the Airport operating independent from the Dublin Airport Authority. I have for a number of years advocated the path now being pursued by the Minister and have strongly suggested this approach in my discussion with Minister Varadkar since the formation of the present government.
However, I note the concerns expressed in a recent article in the Irish Times with regard to suggestions as to what shape the new structure might take. I am happy to say, from my contact with the Minister that there is no need for these concerns. The Minister is fully aware of the importance of our airport to the region and I am satisfied (from my dealings with him) that he will only proceed with a new structure that enhances our airports prospects.
The future of our airport is dependent on a proactive approach by our government, this initiative by the Minister clearly demonstrates that the indifference of the previous administration in this, as in so many other matters, is at an end. I believe that a new Shannon with a dynamic energised and committed board will in a relatively short time demonstrate what can be achieved. This board will need to be policy driven, with a policy which is anchored on a commitment to have a viable airport serving the needs of the region.
Change at Shannon cannot just be for change sake. Shannon needs a structure which is policy driven and economically viable. That policy should focus on creating a viable airport which serves the needs of the region. The first task of the new board will be to ensure that a competent Management team is in place, a team with the experience and capacity capable of driving and delivering an aggressive growth plan for the airport. That plan will have to serve the needs of the of the region.
I believe that in order to meet those diverse needs that we should not necessary reject state ownership. Any narrow based vision that might suggest that Shannon is just an Airport serving the narrow needs of an airport community must be rejected. It is such an approach which has in recent years isolated the airport from the broader community and which has led to the airport’s demise. It is unfortunate that such an image should have been allowed to flow from a state owned airport- this is the reason why alternative models of ownership are now being suggested. However, I think that there is a role for State ownership in our airport and my view in this regard has been strengthened by the approach of Minister Varadkar.
The new Shannon must integrate and interface with the various interests in the region who depend on the Airport for their success and survival. Those interests include those involved in industry, tourism, education and balanced regional development.
I am looking forward to further engagement with Minister Varadkar on this issue. Put bluntly it has been clear now for some time that the current structure has failed our airport. There is an opportunity now for a new and invigorating initiative for our airport which can benefit the region as a whole and indeed bring significant national benefits and we must not let this opportunity pass.
I will be seeking in the days and weeks ahead to garner political and community support for this initiative by the minister for a revitalised Shannon Airport, so that this once great Airport, can be made great again.