Wednesday, 20 May 1992
Dáil Éireann Debate
3. Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications if her attention has been drawn to the proposal at the recent IMI conference for an air bridge between Ireland and continental Europe; whether the Government have given any consideration to this proposal, and if they will carry out a feasibility study of same in order to provide improved air freight traffic access between Ireland and Luxembourg.
26. Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications if she has recently made a submission to the EC seeking economic aid to help subsidise air and sea freight services with a view to helping Irish exports compete; if so, if she will outline the response to the submission, and if she will make a statement on the matter.
On 25 February, I gave the House details and progress to that date of Ireland's application for EC funding for mobile assets. On 5 March, discussions were held with the EC Commission to discuss the reasons for their refusal of Ireland's application. On 24 April, a further submission was made to the EC Commission for funding for access transport services. This application addressed the concerns expressed by the Commission at the March meeting. The Commission have indicated that they will respond to this application shortly.
In 1990, KPMG Stokes Kennedy Crowley on behalf of the Irish Government and the EC Commission examined Ireland's requirement for improved sea and air freight services. Based on their recommendations, the Government applied to the EC Commission for initial priority investment in direct shipping services to mainland Europe which were regarded as essential by the consultants. Investment in air freight services, while regarded as desirable by the consultants, was not accorded the same priority as investments of a future application for aid for air freight services if the EC Commission accept the principle of EC funding for access transport.
 In conclusion, I would like to place on record the Government's appreciation of the co-operation and support we have received for our application from the Confederation of Irish Industry, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the farming organisations, Irish MEPs from all parties and the Irish members of ECOSOC.
Mr. Yates: The Minister will be aware I am referring to Dr. Tony Ryan's speech at the IMI conference and the Aer Lingus proposal in relation to an air bridge which would provide a direct link for air freight from Shannon to Luxembourg. I appreciate what the Minister said about the EC Commission but have the Government analysed this proposal in terms of cost and the benefits to be derived therefrom? In view of the fact that rail freight on the continent will provide three hour access for freight between one point and another is it not vital that we have, for high value goods, such a facility in place?
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: The Deputy will be aware that since the last time I was involved in Question Time the Government have been pushing very strongly for EC assistance for mobile assets. We have to fight that case, we lost it once and we have gone back to the Commission who are prepared to look at it again and present their results to us shortly. It is essential that we convince the Commission of the importance for this country, which will be the only island country in the European Community after the Channel tunnel opens, of EC support for such mobile assets. Up to now, we have made our case on the basis of shipping assets. The idea of an air bridge is not new; it was mentioned a number of times previously. In my Department we are awaiting the proposal Dr. Tony Ryan made in Killarney.
Mr. Yates: With respect, the Minister did not answer my question. I am aware the request for shipping aid was refused. My question was whether the Minister will apply for air freight aid? While Dr.  Tony Ryan may not have made a specific proposal my understanding is that Aer Lingus have. Under it they propose using 737 style aircraft which would require an annual subsidy in the order of £100 million. Is it the Government's intention — whatever about the EC Commission — to apply for an air bridge to transport products, especially fresh food, to the continent where the time factor is critical? Is the Government's policy to consider this proposal and pursue it as Aer Lingus have outlined?
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: The Deputy can be assured the Government are pursuing every avenue to try to reduce costs to Irish industry to enable it provide more jobs. We must be aware of what the competition directorate of the EC said publicly in regard to EC subsidies for mobile assets. They are very concerned that any subsidy given to any member state in relation to either air bridge or shipping freight facilities would be against the competition policy of the European Community. They are the issues we dealt with in the new request we put to the Commission and which my officials and the Commission officials have been dealing with in the past number of weeks.
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