Tanaiste knew of O'Leary offer long before hangar was vacated
TANAISTE Mary Coughlan received formal proposals from Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary to take over SR Technics' facilities at Dublin airport and re-employ 500 of its aircraft engineers some seven months before the company had even closed its Irish operation, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
In a letter to the Tanaiste dated February 26, 2009, Mr O'Leary said that in light of the SR Technics (SRT) announcement of its intention to pull out of Ireland, Ryanair was "willing to immediately step in and commit its foreseeable future base maintenance requirements" to Dublin airport, with the creation of up to 500 well-paid aircraft maintenance jobs.
The revelation today that the Tanaiste was made aware of Ryanair's proposals for Hangar 6 a full seven months before SRT's closure, and eight months before Aer Lingus reached agreement with the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) to take over its former facilities, will heap further pressure on Ms Coughlan over her handling of the so-called Hangargate affair.
The Donegal TD found herself the subject of a public outcry, and at the centre of a political storm, last week following the publication by the Sunday Independent of correspondence between her and Mr O'Leary, in which she repeatedly refused to intercede on Ryanair's behalf with the DAA as it sought to secure Hangar 6 for its use.
Public anger is evident in this week's Sunday Independent/Quantum Research telephone poll. Asked what the Dail's main priority should have been last week, the Willie O'Dea affair or trying to secure the 300 jobs at Dublin airport offered by Michael O'Leary, an overwhelming 86 per cent expressed the view that the Ryanair jobs were more important.
But as damning as the letters between the Tanaiste and Mr O'Leary -- sent in August and September of last year -- were, they now appear to have been prompted only by the inability of the IDA to overcome the significant obstacle to Ryanair's proposals presented by its unwillingness to talk directly with the DAA in negotiations for Hangar 6.
Given that Michael O'Leary personally informed the Tanaiste in writing on February 26, 2009, that Ryanair would not deal with the DAA, fresh questions in relation to Ms Coughlan's suitability for the role of Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment will almost certainly arise.
Responding to the Ryanair chief's letter on February 27 last year, Ms Coughlan made no effort to address his objections to direct talks with the DAA. Nor did the Tanaiste address Mr O'Leary's promise to move immediately to take over the former SRT facility at Dublin airport and create up to 500 jobs there.
Rather, she immediately referred Mr O'Leary to the IDA, saying simply: "I think the best way to progress this matter quickly is to put you in contact with IDA Ireland who have dealt with SR Technics on the Government's behalf for many years and have been tasked with following up on any expressions of interest in the business."
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