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The “Aviation Action Plan” is PR spin; a Political Solution to an Economic Problem

Posted on: May 31st, 2005

There were two driving forces in this great aviation debate. It all very well to speak about great strategic interests, visionary decisions, long-term key directions and even to straddle the ideological divide between the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil. Good financial and economic arguments have been made on both sides but the two motivating forces in this debate were purely political.

This great plan was decided by a handful of seats in north Dublin. That was the motivating force. The Taoiseach would not have minded whether the second terminal went private, public, DAA, or to the entrepreneurs provided it guaranteed seats.

The other agenda driving this debate, to which the Minister referred unwittingly or otherwise, was the trades unions. The Minister referred, as far as I can recollect, to the trade unions three times regarding the necessity to consult with them on all occasions. The same tributes were not paid nor care taken to consult with business and, most important, little care was taken to consult with those who really matter, namely the consumers.

That is the agenda which has driven this so-called “aviation action plan.”

I have not heard any credible justification for giving the contract to build, design and own the second terminal to the same organisation that has made a complete and utter mess of the first terminal. I would have thought there would have been a sine qua non on this issue, that this would be an open tender to all comers, except one which has proved beyond doubt its utter incompetence. However, the Government has decided to award the contract to the one organisation that has proved its incompetence.

I will place a wager with the Minister, and any other Member, that the same organisation will also be the chosen operator of the terminal when the time comes.

Does anybody in this House park their car out there? It costs €30 for nine hours parking at Dublin Airport. This is what the Dublin Airport Authority imposes. Does anybody every change money out there? The foreign exchange charges are outrageous. Dublin Airport charges International Currency Exchange, ICE, €1 million a year. This was the charge insisted upon by Aer Rianta because it had a quasi-monopoly for so long.

I wish to speak on the Aer Lingus decision which is part of this deal hatched up to hold the north Dublin seats. On the surface, the decision on Aer Lingus might provide us with some sort of comfort that the State is going to sacrifice and give up its control. The trade unions, playing brilliant ball with Bertie, have made a little bit of noise and said they do not like this very much. The House need not worry because they will not do anything about it; they will not upset the apple cart on this one. They are making all the right noises by protesting a bit as though they did not get their own way which they did.

We are informed that 51% of the airline is being sold. This is correct and the trade unions kick up about it. Where will the other 49% be? It will be in the hands of the State and the unions, the old alliance again. They are locked together and they will stick together.

Where is the 51% going to be? It will be distributed everywhere in multiples, dozens, hundreds and maybe thousands of shareholders. Once it is distributed far and wide enough, who will be the largest shareholder? It will be the State, by a very long way. As the Minister proudly said, “Don’t worry, lads, we will have 25%, a blocking shareholding.” This is the code for the unions. The State will still be in control.

The other 51% will be distributed in such a way that no one will be able to touch them.
The truth is that nobody cares. This is a political solution to an economic problem. It is the worst possible solution but the Minister and the Taoiseach’s friends in the trade unions can rest assured they have won an enormous victory. They are still in control of Aer Rianta and the second terminal and they are still in control of Aer Lingus.