Monday 23 April 2018

General election of spring 2016 is foolishly dictating future of airline

WHAT ever you're expecting over the coming 12 months - do not expect bold political decision making.

This time next year you could well be looking at election posters on the streets. For now we are in that period in the political cycle when the atmosphere is a curious mix of the febrile and the immobile. Soon the political machine will have two speed settings: apathy and panic.

Every decision will be weighed and re-weighed, and many on the Government team will agree that the best decision of all is no decision - until after the general election at least.

It is a time when the opposition can have fun at Leinster House. Though none of that means that they will prosper politically as a result of their stratagems.

Let us recall that Fianna Fáil in government a decade ago sold 75pc of the then-national airline. As a Clare TD, with Shannon on his doorstep, the party spokesman Timmy Dooley's "national interest script" is already written for him. But the decision of 2005 must be kept in mind.

Sinn Féin, as in so many other policy areas right now can be as strident as they wish. They can luxuriate in the irresponsibility of light-baggage-carrying opposition.

Labour is always duty-bound to be seen as "pro-Aer Lingus" and "pro all our airports". It's a trade union thing.

Fine Gael has been betwixt and between since the issue came to the boil. The Taoiseach was equivocal at best in the early days. Then nine days ago he appeared to come off the fence, shaping the grounds for rejection of this bid by the International Airline Group, made up of British and Spanish interests.

Mr Kenny then spoke on RTÉ radio, saying: "I need to see a cast-iron guarantee in respect of connectivity for Cork, Shannon, Dublin and Knock."

If he got such a guarantee, the Government could consider all options.

The worrying part in all of this is that this decision risks being made on the hoof with an overriding emphasis on how it will play in the upcoming general election. The bigger and longer-term interest on what is best for Ireland's ability as an island to link with the rest of the world for tourism, other business and social reasons, may not be best catered for in all of this.

There are sensitive interests around the position of workers at the various airports. There is the important issue of those Heathrow landing slots.

Those issues must be the focus of the decision to come on Aer Lingus.

Irish Independent

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