Taoiseach Enda Kenny has requested US President Barack Obama’s help with a bitter row over transatlantic air services from Cork by a budget carrier.
The Taoiseach also indicated that, if necessary, he will also raise the issue with President Obama’s successor in the White House after the November elections.
The revelation came as Mr Kenny pleaded for commonsense over the proposed air links between Cork and the US cities of Boston and New York by Norwegian Air International.
Norwegian is tipped to slash average return fares on transatlantic services – with a surge in tourist business expected between Ireland and the US.
However, the airline has been unable to commence operations from Cork despite being granted a foreign carrier permit by the US Department of Transportation.
The airline unveiled its route plans more than a year ago.
Norwegian has been unable to secure a permit to begin route operations as some US politicians including Hillary Clinton, backed by powerful US trade unions, have vehemently opposed the Norwegian services on labour grounds.
The Taoiseach revealed he has personally raised the issue twice with President Obama and, if necessary, will raise it with his successor after November’s US election.
“We have had discussions at a European level and at an American level.
You cannot get any higher than the American president,” Mr Kenny said.
“It is not politics that is holding this back. This is not a political obstruction and obviously now there is a claim for this to go to arbitration.”
The EU has formally sought arbitration on the basis the US delay in granting Norwegian a route permit is effectively a breach of the EU/US ‘Open Skies’ agreement.
“If the matter becomes approved in the meantime, there will be no need for arbitration,” the Taoiseach said.
“But it is a matter for common sense to prevail here - for a situation that is in compliance with the ‘Open Skies’ agreement and that will have enormous beneficial results on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Mr Kenny said there was little doubt but that the entry of Norwegian to the transatlantic market could have a Ryanair-like impact.
“The opportunity for Norwegian to fly from Ireland to the States will have the capacity to do for long haul what Ryanair did for (European) short haul with enormous opportunities for both sides.”
Cork’s Sen Jerry Buttimer warned that the Norwegian service to the US was “the crucial piece of the jigsaw” in terms of a transport strategy for Ireland’s second city.
“We have simply got to keep the pressure on to secure this service.
Cork has been working for 25 years to get a transatlantic service and it is critical that Norwegian is allowed to deliver it,” he said.
The row over the proposed Cork-Boston service by Norwegian is expected to be raised at a meeting in Canada tomorrow (Tuesday) between EU Transport Commissioner Violleta Bulc and US Transport Secretary Anthony Foxx.
There is increasing speculation that the US will not resolve the permit row until after the US Presidential election.
Norwegian has insisted it remains fully committed to the Cork-Boston and Cork-New York routes which the carrier had hoped to launch last summer.
The routes are now unlikely to commence before May 2017.
“In the year since Norwegian announced plans for transatlantic routes from Cork, we have seen tremendous support from the public, Cork airport, the Irish Government, the EU and many others,” a Norwegian spokesman said.
“It is frustrating therefore that ongoing delay by the US authorities is preventing Ireland from much needed new routes and the huge economic benefits they would bring.”
Norwegian said it is clearly entitled to a route permit from the US authorities and expressed confidence that the issue will be resolved.
Last month, Norwegian dismissed as “false and misleading” suggestions by US Congressman Peter de Fazio that the carrier was attempting to use Ireland as “a flag of convenience.”
US trade unions have vehemently opposed the entry of Norwegian to the transatlantic market amid claims the airline will undermine existing US crew and ground handler contracts.