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Aer Rianta Should Not Suffer From Political Interference

Posted on: July 13th, 2004

The history of Aer Rianta is shameful. Few Members are prepared to say that, because Aer Rianta has been a political satellite of the political parties for many years. As a result, it has been allowed to be an economic, commercial and political monopoly for as long as I can remember. That has resulted in it making notional profits while being left alone to plough its own furrow in an easy economic situation with no competition.

I applaud the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, for taking on this monopoly with a radical look at the vested interests involved. Aer Rianta was rotten in its structure from top to bottom because of its monopolistic structure and the political patronage that directed its non-existent commercial mandate. This will be tackled by the Bill.

The Minister cannot obviously say what exactly directed his thinking into setting up three airport authorities. However, the Bill, though I do not fully support it, is a recognition of the ugly monster that Aer Rianta was and an attempt to slay it one way or the other. It is a first step in setting Aer Rianta on the commercial path which the body itself failed to address. The Bill is not one I would have introduced because I would have hoped it would go a good deal further. However, due to the political difficulties faced by the Minister, it is probably as far as he can go.

Why must three airport authorities be established? I understand the theory that they should compete with each other. However, reading the Minister’s speech reminded me of what the former Senator, Professor Joe Lee, said to me after we shared a room for five years. He told me that while he listened to my speeches and read my articles, sometimes in agreement and other times in disagreement, he never saw any evidence in them supporting my arguments.

I suggest the Minister is in the same situation. He has produced a solution but it is lacking in evidence to show it will work. There are no good business reasons as to why Cork or Shannon Airports will survive on their own or compete with Dublin Airport. This Bill is a step in the dark. If it does not work, the Government will once again have to pick up the pieces. No big risks are being taken in this Bill. Whereas there may be problems for Cork or Shannon Airports, there is no doubt that the Government will be forced to rescue them because of backbench political murmurings which the Government has to put up with every time it makes a move on Aer Lingus or Aer Rianta. Let us not applaud this Bill as some giant step but acknowledge it more as a step in the dark – a step backwards if it does not work – and more an act of faith.

Further complications arose in this political battle when the board united with the trade unions in obstructing the Government’s plans. The Government has since been vacillating in the face of this. Why has the Minister tolerated the obstruction of both the board and the unions? The only explanation for this effective obstruction is the commonly held one, that the union leaders have an inside track in the Cabinet, resulting in the whole Cabinet not supporting Mr. Brennan’s plans for Aer Rianta.

It is time for the Taoiseach to explain his role behind the scenes. Was he fully behind what the Minister for Transport and other Ministers pushed for the future of Aer Rianta? Or was the Taoiseach a fifth columnist backing the trade union agenda at Cabinet? It is very important that we know this because if we do not know about the internal dynamics of the Cabinet and believe the Minister’s colleagues have thwarted him, how can we believe when operations day comes, on 30 April 2005, that the future Ministers for Transport and Finance will support and approve the business plan?