Dáil Éireann - Volume 632 - 27 February, 2007

Adjournment Debate. - State Airports.

  Mr. P. Breen: I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, has good news for me also.

Last Friday I met workers from the airport and was shocked at the way in which they reacted to what is happening. They feel let down, demoralised and wronged by what is happening with regard to the cost-cutting measures. They feel particularly let down by the Government and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen. Many of our local Fianna Fáil representatives, and the Taoiseach, criticise the cuts made by the Dublin Airport Authority and local management at Shannon when it was the Government who appointed the Dublin Airport Authority with the task in the first place.

Apart from this, what is happening at Shannon is that a profit-cutting exercise has become a cost-cutting exercise. Last September the Marsh Bar, the only public bar at Shannon Airport, was closed. This had the effect of reducing revenues and profits. In other words, the move has increased costs. It has also meant the loss of a venue at Shannon Airport particularly for the non-travelling public. Every time I pass those [813] closed doors I see the sign, “Closed until further notice. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.” If the Dublin Airport Authority is so apologetic, why does it not reopen the bar? Given that the Taoiseach described the move as petty I ask him to intervene and restore Shannon Airport to its former state. Some time later the Estuary restaurant had its hours curtailed, now closing at 3 p.m. I invite the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, and Mr. Collier to Shannon Airport any day of the week to explain to customers at 3.05 p.m. the reason no hot food is available. At present workers on the ground have to apologise for the lack of service. This is another example of revenue and profit cutting and increasing costs. Last week 23 staff members got notice that Londis in Shannon will close and also that the Estuary restaurant could close. A few years ago the tourism board warned that the fáilte was disappearing from Irish life and this would have a negative effect on tourism. I can see no better example of this than what is happening at Shannon Airport.

Shannon is synonymous with catering, friendliness and good food and staff do their utmost to accommodate the needs of passengers. In the past workers have gone beyond the call of duty. They are proud of their jobs, Shannon Airport and the role it plays in the mid-west. Into the atmosphere of goodwill has come the swinging and demoralising cuts. This is because talks concluded with the management. The management went on local radio last week and said the time for talking is over. The time for talking is never over in these disputes. Is it any wonder the offer from the management was turned down by an overwhelming majority of staff who did not just see their jobs at stake but a whole life at Shannon Airport and a unique asset?

I have asked the Minister for Transport to intervene previously. I ask him again now. Just because out-sourcing appears to be the buzzword it does not necessarily mean a better business model. It does not serve the customer better and it does not create a better airport.

We all know about the rip off prices from the fast food outlets at other airports which the travelling public experience from time to time. We in the mid-west do not want a yellow pack airport as some of the other airports in Continental Europe have become. Shannon has a vibrant and profitable catering business and valuable in-flight catering contracts. We realise Shannon has to be put on a competitive footing and the workers are willing to negotiate. They have adopted this approach previously and will do so again if allowed enter talks as partners and not already on the back foot.

On the issue of competitors, I ask the Minister if the Government is planning for another U-turn in its commitment that Shannon’s debt be [814] absorbed by the Dublin Airport Authority as it did with Cork Airport last week.

I turn to the economic and tourism development plan for the airport and the region. The Minister ignored the recommendation of the Sorensen and Dukes report and calls for an economic impact study on the effect of Open Skies on Shannon. What he has promised is an economic and tourism development plan but we have heard little about this plan since its launch in June 2006. In October 2006 the Minister stated that preparation of this plan was at an advanced staged and the various submissions were being considered. Four months later I would appreciate if the Minister of State would enlighten me as to the state of progress on the plan and when it will be implemented.

The mid-west needs Shannon Airport to continue as a major gateway and a hub for the region. With this in mind I ask the Government to take its responsibility seriously for balanced regional development and to convey these sentiments to the Minister. I hope there will be a move tomorrow in the Labour Relations Commission and that Shannon Airport can be protected. We do not want another situation that will damage the airport for the forthcoming summer season.

  Mr. Gallagher: Gabhaim buíochas don Teachta Breen as ucht na deise a thabhairt dom an cheist seo a phlé. If Shannon Airport is to develop as a successful and sustainable business, it is clear that one of the issues which must be addressed in its business plan is the airport’s uncompetitive cost base. When that obstacle is overcome, the airport has a real opportunity to develop new markets and attract the airline customers it needs for its commercial future.

While industrial relations at Shannon Airport are a matter for the Dublin Airport Authority and local management, I understand that the company, under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission, LRC, has made substantial efforts over a long period to find agreement with the trade unions involved on how the airport could operate efficiently and in a sustainable manner. Unfortunately, even though the process had the assistance of the LRC, I understand that it has not been possible so far to find agreement on the way forward. I am sure Deputy Pat Breen will join with me in hoping that the right climate to initiate meaningful negotiations between the parties may emerge as soon as possible so that the issues around the sustainability of Shannon Airport can be addressed once and for all.

The Deputy referred to the proposed tourism and economic development plan. It is important to state that this plan was initiated in the context of the ongoing EU-US open skies negotiations. In preparing the plan, the Department of Transport has consulted with the Department of Arts, [815] Sport and Tourism, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Finance. A separate liaison group established by the Mid West Regional Authority has also submitted a report on the development of the Shannon region for consideration. It is hoped to bring the tourism and economic [816] development plan to fruition in the context of the finalisation of the ongoing EU-US open skies negotiations, which will include transitional arrangements for Shannon.

  The Dáil adjourned at 9.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 28 February 2007.