Saturday 18 November 2017

Debts and Dubs are welcome departures

Barry Duggan

SHANNON Airport is facing into months of uncertainty after the Government yesterday announced a plan with little detail in it.

While there was a broad brush welcome locally for the concept of an independent airport, business and tourism sources in the region said Transport Minister Leo Varadkar faces a tough battle to get the new airport entity across the line.

Many questions remain unanswered about the airport's future. Mr Varadkar said a steering group will decide the future management of the new Shannon entity, but the Irish Independent learned last night that Shannon's future will not be decided until the end of the year.

Shannon is suffering losses in the millions and has seen passenger numbers collapse from 3.6 million to 1.6 million in the last five years. The finer details of the debt burden are unknown.

A key issue will be the cost base of the new entity.

At the moment the combined workforce of both Shannon Airport and Shannon Development numbers 350, which is not considered viable.

However, significant numbers of Shannon Development's staff are expected to transfer to Enterprise Ireland and Failte Ireland.

Aer Rianta International (ARI) -- one of the world's most successful travel retail companies -- was founded in Shannon in 1988.

It has long been a bone of contention across the Mid-West region that profits from an indigenous company have been ploughed into the DAA while Shannon floundered.

Rules

Shannon is €100m in debt to the DAA, but a government spokesperson said in recognition of Shannon's role with ARI, the new entity will be left debt free.

However, it is very much a sink-or-swim scenario, with Mr Varadkar stating that the new entity will not receive any state subsidies as it will be subject to EU state aid rules.

Just one aspect is clear from yesterday's announcement -- the country's only regional development agency, Shannon Development is being split up.

The agency is to have its tourism function taken over by Failte Ireland, while the IDA and Enterprise Ireland will now assume its business and foreign direct investment roles.

Shannon Development's other core function -- a landlord for hundreds of businesses across the Mid-West -- will be transferred into the new entity, with revenues arising from this being channelled into the airport body.

Irish Independent

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