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Aer Lingus: there will be no return to Shannon

AER Lingus last night said it will not reverse its controversial decision to axe its Shannon to Heathrow service - despite mounting fears the move will cost the mid-west hundreds of millions of euro and thousands of jobs.

Yesterday it was confirmed the region has already lost €75m in tourism investment directly as a result of the airline's decision to pull the plug on the Heathrow route.

But local business leaders predicted the region will lose hundreds of millions more in investment unless an alternative link to Heathrow is found.

Limerick Co Council claimed the move has also placed up to 10,000 jobs under serious threat.

However, Aer Lingus chiefs last night said the company had made a "pragmatic commercial decision" and that its position had not changed.

The government is coming under intense pressure to explain how it plans to deal with the crisis.

Neither Taoiseach Bertie Ahern nor any of his senior Cabinet ministers has spoken directly about the coalition's response to what has been described as a 'catastrophic' blow to the region.

Opposition parties called on the Government to "come out of hiding" amid growing calls for the Dail to be reconvened to debate the decision.

"Fianna Fail's headless response to this crisis and its continuing silence is startling, particularly as the Government is the chief shareholder in Aer Lingus," said Fine Gael transport spokeswoman Olivia Mitchell.

Labour also called on the Government to end its silence and for ministers to state what exactly they knew about the controversial Aer Lingus move, and when they were informed.

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"Even more importantly, they have to tell the people of this region exactly what steps they are going to take," the party's local TD, Jan O'Sullivan, added.

Absent Government ministers also came under fire from their own backbench TDs.

Fianna Fail TD Timmy Dooley said their silence was "heightening the sense of alarm in the region".

His party colleague, Limerick East TD Peter Power, urged the Government to back a proposal by rival airline Ryanair to the block the tranfer of the Heathrow slots at board level.

The Government last night insisted that Transport Minister Noel Dempsey was in the country and "dealing" with the issue.

But the only Government figure to speak directly about the decision is Junior Minister Tony Killeen.

The Clare TD is the Minister of State at the Department of Environment and Energy and has no role in terms of transport, employment, tourism or regional development.

He said nobody in Government knew about the removal of the Aer Lingus service to Heathrow until last weekend.

Meanwhile, the first signs of the decision's potentially devastating effect on the region's economy was vividly illustrated with the collapse of two major tourism projects since the announcement was made three days ago.

Management at the five-star Dromoland Castle hotel, located just 12kms from Shannon Airport, confirmed a €25m expansion has been put on ice.

Doonbeg Golf Course, which attracts thousands of tourists every year, has also called a halt to a planned €50m expansion.

Dromoland Castle General Manager Mark Nolan predicted tourism in the Mid West would plummet by up to 25pc unless an alternative route to Heathrow was found.


Business employers representative group IBEC yesterday said that it has been contacted by more than 70 multinationals and indigenous firms in the West expressing concerns.

Pat Delaney, director of the regions at IBEC, said the body is currently conducting a business impact assessment of the region with results expected early next week.

The western region, chiefly Limerick, has the biggest concentration of multinationals in the country.

Computer giant Dell, one of the country's biggest employers, employs 3,500 people at its plant in Limerick.

The Shannon Heathrow route is commonly known as the "Dell bus" due to the regularity of its use by workers.

It is estimated that 60,000 of the 360,000 passengers who used the Shannon to Heathrow route are tourists.

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