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Saturday 24 February 2018

Coughlan under fire as 300 hi-tech jobs on line

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

TANAISTE Mary Coughlan was under intense pressure last night to personally intervene to secure 300 jobs.

The spotlight fell on the Employment Minister after she was accused of "doing nothing" and letting 200 aircraft maintenance jobs slip away to Scotland. The incident sparked a bitter war of words between Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, the Government and its agencies.

Mr O'Leary detailed how the Scottish government effectively rolled out the red carpet to get Ryanair to bring 200 jobs to Glasgow Prestwick Airport, which the low-cost carrier claimed it had intended to create at Dublin Airport.

Ryanair says it planned to take over the former SR Technics facility at Dublin Airport and re-employ 500 aircraft engineers.

But the company refused to deal directly with Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) because it had a poor relationship with it. Instead, Mr O'Leary asked for Ms Coughlan or the IDA to act as a go-between to secure the deal to rent or buy the hangar space.

"In return for 500 jobs, they weren't willing to do anything," Mr O'Leary said.

Ms Coughlan just sent letters when he made approaches about taking over part of the SR Technics facility, he claimed.

"The minister was sitting on her hands doing nothing," he added.

Letters released by the airline

show that Ms Coughlan said direct talks between the airline and the DAA were needed.

Mr O'Leary says Ryanair is planning a further 300 aircraft maintenance jobs and "Ireland has to compete with a number of other aggressive countries".

The Government now wants the Tanaiste to concentrate on the remaining 300 jobs on offer.

The Ryanair jobs fiasco is the latest case of the minister facing accusations of inaction when jobs were on the line.

An Irish Independent/Millward Brown/Lansdowne opinion poll showed at the weekend that Ms Coughlan was seen as performing poorly in her job -- in contrast to Finance Minister Brian Lenihan.

Last week, she was accused of "doing nothing" to protect 1,100 Cadbury jobs.

And she was dragged into the Government's handling of Bank of Scotland's closure of their branch network with the loss of 750 jobs.

Ryanair's move at Dublin Airport came after SR Technics closed with the loss of 1,100 jobs.

In contrast with the Government's approach, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond was personally involved in securing 200 Ryanair jobs in a new €10m facility at Prestwick airport.

Fianna Fail TD Darragh O'Brien said he expected Ms Coughlan had done all she could to win the jobs, but there were other bidders involved and she had to abide by rules.

Concerned by Mr O'Leary's accusations, he contacted the Tanaiste himself yesterday and understood that Ryanair did not put forward a business plan first time around.

"If it's a case we need to be more hands on, then I think we should be doing it. If we still have a chance on the 300 jobs, we should do whatever needs to be done. We should put pride and personalities aside. This is about jobs," he said.

Fine Gael enterprise spokesman Leo Varadkar said Ms Coughlan had to make a greater effort as a mediator.

"O'Leary and the DAA are behaving like children that aren't talking to each other. Coughlan needs to employ a firm hand. She should book Farmleigh for the weekend, take them all out there and sort it out so that Dublin gets the 300 jobs," he said.

Mr O'Leary said Mr Salmond, Scottish Enterprise -- the country's equivalent of the IDA -- and Prestwick Airport were actively seeking to secure the jobs.



Discussions

The DAA said it was "happy to engage in discussions" with any company that had plans to create jobs.

"The DAA would have talked to Ryanair about its plans. But at no stage did Ryanair approach the DAA in relation to having meaningful commercial negotiations with regard to this matter," a spokesman said.

The DAA said that, at the time, it was in negotiations with Dublin Aerospace and Aer Lingus on using hangars at Dublin Airport for maintenance.

"Both of these companies have since leased hangar space at Dublin Airport. Those two aircraft businesses will provide employment for more than 250 people," the spokesman said.

Ms Coughlan said decisions on the location of any investment by Ryanair were "in the final analysis a matter for the company".

In a statement from her department late yesterday afternoon, the minister said that over a protracted period last year "every effort was made by me" with IDA Ireland, to advance the outline proposal for securing the Ryanair investment for Dublin Airport, "including direct engagement by IDA Ireland, at my request".

"Despite the best efforts of IDA, as acknowledged by Mr O'Leary, of Ryanair, it was not possible to overcome obstacles in relation to access to specific hangar space at the airport."

Irish Independent

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