00:00 Saturday 19 May 2012  Written by Archon

Jackboot kept firmly on Cork Airports neck!

FOILED again! That unholy alliance of the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) and wimpy politicos has driven one more nail into the coffin of Cork Airport - this time perhaps the most fatal nail of all.

Shannon is to be released from the DAA's dead hand, to be allowed set its own charges and to compete with other airports.

But Blueshirt Transport Minister, Varadkar the Impaler, is keeping the jackboot firmly on Cork's neck. He won't allow the airport to become independent, and consequently it is to remain under DAA control, saddled with enormous debts that were not of Cork's making.

In 2004 Fianna Fail's then Transport Minister, Seamus Brennan dissolved Aer Rianta and replaced it with a new body called the Dublin Airport Authority.

Importantly, Brennan declared that the three airports would go their own ways, each with their own board of directors, independent and free to make 'a fresh start.' Thus was born the DAA and with it the idea that Cork, Dublin and Shannon, would compete with one another.

Incredibly, Brennan's ambitious project turned out to be one of the biggest political scams ever invented by Fianna Fail. Neither Cork nor Shannon was given the freedom to go its own way. Instead, the importance and power of the new Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) was consolidated in that the other airports would enjoy no leeway to determine their own fates. They'd be controlled by Dublin.

No independent Cork

Both Cork and Shannon were given mockya, toothless and well-paid boards of directors (and still have them), but their areas of activity were confined to the day-to-day running of the airports. The crucial decision-making processes remained in the hands of the DAA.

For reasons known to themselves, local Fianna Fáil big wigs, such as Michael Martin, never explained to Cork why they believed it was a good thing for the city's airport to be controlled by Dublin.

What is certain is that the Fine Gael/Labour government is taking the same approach - which raises questions about the clout (if any) Minister Coveney has at the cabinet table, or even if he has any interest in the future of Cork Airport.

The current situation is the following:

Cork Airport must operate under DAA control and cannot make decisions that might be in the interests of Cork but not of Dublin. Cork cannot set out its own business strategy, build markets or attract new routes without DAA approval.

The DAA parent board takes all major strategy decisions.

Cork Airport cannot reach its potential while controlled by the DAA.

The DAA does not permit Cork to move into the transatlantic flights business because of competition fears.

Cork has no domestic flights - neither to Dublin or Belfast.

Vrad the Impaler says he will not give Cork Airport any form of independence while it has large debts - a comment that reeks of hypocrisy, whether he intended it or not.

Terminal condition

Here is what he said: "That debt has to be paid down first before we can look at separating Cork. There aren't enough passengers using Cork to pay down that debt. What will happen over time is that passengers flying in and out of Dublin will pay down that debt. And, when the debt is paid down,we can then look at the separation for Cork. But that's not something that is on the short-term agenda.'

Certainly, Cork Airport is carrying a €113m debt due to the construction of a gigantic terminal that has 'caverns measureless to man' and which are empty most of the time. Responsibility for the Kubla Khan style monstrosity lies with Dublin, not Cork.

Hence, for Varadkar to punish Cork for Dublin's stupidity is outrageous, particularly when a separated Shannon Airport will have its €100m debt absorbed by the profitable parts of the DAA.

Interestingly, the Booz report, on which Vradakar is acting, regarded Cork as having the potential to stand alone as 'a viable entity in the future.'

Varadkar's dismissal of Cork's interests was gloriously supported by his Leeside FG chums. Almost incoherent with a strange joy, backbench Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer declared to the skies that the Shannon separation had brought autonomy for Cork Airport a step closer.

Political response

Yet, not too long ago, Buttimer was promising that Fine Gael was committed to an independent airport and would put in place the financial structures to carry this out. The party would 'boost Cork Airport and would not let debt drag it down.'

Ireland South MEP Seán Kelly of Fine Gael (remember him?) said that a strong network of regional airports was vital for Europe's trade and tourism policies. 'Securing the future of the airports like Shannon and Cork is therefore essential and that's what I have lobbied for here in Europe.' Well done Seán, is all we can say in response to a profundity that was expressed with such clarity and with such concern!

Fianna Fáil's South Central TD, Mickey McGrath was worried about the staff at the airport 'as Cork still answers to Dublin, whereas Shannon is free to decide its own route.' He blithely forgot that Fianna Fáil, his party, 'ballsed up' the place.

The other Mickey (Mr Martin) was worried about 'the alarming lack of detail' in Minister Varadkar's decision. He demanded 'a detailed plan from the Government which would safeguard the future of Cork Airport.'

He said the plan ought to clarify 'government airport policy', provide greater autonomy, establish 'renewed corporate structures' and resolve the question of 'debt and pensions positions.'

Oh God, again what can we say? Yep! We certainly get the politicians we deserve.

Easy money?

In the meantime, hanging over workers' heads at Cork is Varadkar's announcement last November that he would seek 150 job losses at the country's main airports as a way of cutting costs.

With such dire thoughts in mind, let's hope the DAA will take on board the 'An Bord Snip Nua' advice that dividends should not be paid until the Authority starts making a profit (in 2009 it forked out dividends of €19.4 million). After all, the author of the Bord Snip report, Colm McCarthy, is now a DAA board member.

Focusing minds is the fact that the DAA last year awarded a bonus of  €106,000 to the then chief executive, Declan Collier, although the organisation has a debt of €1.1 billion!

In fairness to Varadkar, he threatened to sack half the directors if they didn't reconsider the payment. Collier later relinquished claim to the payment and left to join London City Airport.

As for the consultancy firm Booz (what a charming name) that wrote the report on the future of Cork and Shannon airports, well, they trousered €119,000 for their efforts.

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