00:00 Saturday 06 August 2011  Written by Archon

From bad to worse at Cork Airport

THINGS are going from bad to worse at Cork Airport: falling passenger numbers, airline companies pulling out, the new terminal a white elephant. Here's the dismal picture:

Passenger numbers have fallen by 25%.

The airport can't meet the huge €113m debt for the new terminal.

The airport has operating losses in excess of €10 million a year.

Much of the airport's land bank is likely to be sold, plus the DAA stake in the Business Park.

Flogging the old terminal to Ryanair is not a runner despite the excited efforts of some county councillors. It's future, assuming it has any, is that of a car park.

Three years ago, the airport provided 12 domestic flights per day. That's now down to one a day.

And, the most depressing point of all: no one has a clue how to rescue the place!

Gregorian chant

Supposed to have been spotted recently at Cork Airport was West Cork man Greg Coughlan, who discreetly returned from his bolthole in Panama. So says a Star spy, convinced she recognised the famous developer by his light grey suit and characteristic shock of grey hair, although she thought he got a bit thin.

We're not so sure, though. He'd never chance it while the Boys in Blue continue to search for him after his failure to obey a court order aimed at executing a judgment for €28 million in unpaid property loans. After all, the Gardai continue to monitor a house in Ballydehob and occasionally take a dekko at his lavish €7.5m pad in Kinsale, just in case he was tempted to climb in secretly through a kitchen window for a kip.

But then, who knows in this day and age? Property speculators are a kinda class apart.

A speech Gregser gave to a Cork business seminar now makes for prophetic reading. As CEO of Howard Holdings, he was the brain behind the Cork Docklands Development, a plan that promised to create a new city of 6,000 flats, a new university campus, new parks and public spaces, a new public transport system and a new rail station. In what turned out to be the irony of ironies, he said Cork was a city that 'lived and breathed success.'

The highlight of his spiff was this comment: 'You can't retrofit opportunity you either exploit it or you miss the boat The Docklands will become the catalyst for the "New Cork," a modern European city offering attractions for commercial investment, city living, recreation and tourism.

'We have blank pages before us. How we fill them will define Cork for generations to come", told a cheering audience of local notables.

But now Gregser, who's hiding in Panama or Portugal, or wherever, will never fill in the blanks. How very, very sad! Pass the onion, please.

Greed not so good

Last week, we thought we heard a faint squeal of disappointment from another failed highflier, Mary Harney. But, no! It was merely the sound of the final nail in the coffin of her madcap plan to build a number of private hospitals on the grounds of public facilities.

Disguised behind the rhetoric of a formal Dail answer by Health Minister Reilly to Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald was the announcement that Harney's hospital co-location project had been ignominiously buried, never again to see the light of day, thank God.

The notorious 'for profit' private hospitals were to be based at Beaumont Hospital, St James's Hospital, the Regional Hospital in Limerick and the CUH in Cork. During Harney's reign in Health, Sinn Fein had furiously denounced her plan on the grounds that it would acerbate the two-tier unfairness of the country's health system. Their criticism, however, never dented Harney's confidence in the scheme, nor that of Don Berto himself.

Developers Beacon Medical Group (BMG) and Synchrony each paid €350,000 to the State in deposits that were non-refundable, and they're hardly going to thank our superannuated Celtic Tigress for selling them a pig in a poke! It was also a requirement that they posted bonds or guarantees of €10m per hospital. In BMG's case, that amounted to €30 million. And there's the rub.

The State now faces being sued by BMG and Synchrony for potential loss of earnings over the past five years when the project was debated, postponed, objected to, defended and fought over in the oddest of ways. For instance, Minister Michael Martin at a cabinet meeting in Dublin was all for a private hospital on the CUH campus - only to oppose the plan when he returned for a constituency meeting in Cork!

Signs of the times

The property slump has left our planners with little to do (oh dear, that's not very polite. Let's say they're experiencing a contraction of responsibilities in the control and balance of economic and social environments). So, perhaps they will turn their attention to the proliferation of illegal advertising on our roads, and haul before the courts the gougers who are mucking up the countryside.

The side of the road from Cork to Castlemartyr is clogged with advertising eyesores that include huge signs on trailers parked in fields. Mallow has a similar problem.

Greedy business types claim that it is the only advertising they can afford - it's free. But the planning law is the law, and it isn't enforced. Meanwhile, these guys are turning the periphery of towns and villages into elongated tip heads.

Flying the flag!

Our European masters are getting pernickety and have imposed financial penalties of almost a million euros on British councils, museums, universities, travel firms and business groups for failing to display the EU flag and logo.

Public institutions in receipt of EU cash breach rules if they do not display EU flags and symbols in a prominent place. For example, a regional development agency in the West Midlands was caught for €230,000 while Northampton University had to cough up €64,000 for not flying the EU flag,

A YMCA in Peterborough fell foul of the rules when it didn't put the correct logo on leaflets. It was fined €1,800. A museum in Manchester was hit with an €8,000 penalty.

The Brits aren't happy at Europe dictating what flags the former Empire has to fly. 'It's outrageous!' complained Conservative MPs.

In Ireland's case we'll fly anything if there's a few bob in it - EU flag, Union Jack, Stars and Stripes, Munster flag, Jolly Roger flag, Papal flag, Paralympic flag. We don't mind, to judge by the tattered specimens left hanging night and day outside public offices. Flying the flag here has always been a bit of a joke!

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