Tuesday, 16 February 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will make a statement to Dáil Éireann on claims made by an airline (details supplied) that she has refused to engage as an interlocutor between that airline and the Dublin Airport Authority regarding the airline’s proposal to create aircraft maintenance jobs at Dublin Airport; and the steps she will take to ensure that this investment is secured for Dublin Airport.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will make a statement on the proposed creation of more than 300 jobs by an airline (details supplied) and the reason she has not intervened with the Dublin Airport Authority in order that discussions take place to ensure the proposed jobs are created in Dublin Airport rather than in another country.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the steps she will take to ensure that aircraft maintenance jobs on offer from an airline (details supplied) are located at Dublin Airport; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
Following the announcement that SRT was to close its aircraft maintenance operation at Dublin Airport, I established a group under the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, with the engagement of an aviation expert, to act as a contact point for any company interested in taking over part of the SRT business, or starting a similar business at the airport. Several expressions of interest were received, one of which led to the establishment of a new company, Dublin Aerospace, which is currently setting up a heavy maintenance operation and which will employ about 200 people at the airport when fully operational.
An approach was also received from Ryanair proposing to establish a heavy maintenance operation for its own fleet which would initially employ about 200, perhaps rising to 500 over a number of years. This was a most welcome proposal but there were two complications. First, representatives of Ryanair insisted that they would not talk to the Dublin Airport Authority and this posed a significant obstacle to concluding the agreements necessary to implement the proposal. Second, their interest focused entirely on a particular existing facility — hanger six — which was not available as it was being used to provide line maintenance for the Aer Lingus fleet at the airport.
Ryanair’s approach to the Prestwick project was very different from its approach in Dublin. It negotiated with the authorities in Prestwick which it will not do in Dublin. It is also building a hanger in Prestwick, whereas in Dublin, it is seeking to have a sitting tenant removed from an existing facility to accommodate the company. Nonetheless, I was determined that every effort should be made to secure the project and a protracted engagement and correspondence ensued, involving the IDA — whose officials kept me fully briefed at all times — the DAA and Ryanair. This process culminated in a letter from Mr. Barry O’Leary, CEO of IDA, to Mr. Michael O’Leary, which clearly set out the position and which I would like to read into the record of the House. It states:
That letter was sent on 19 of September 2009. Ryanair did not take up the offer of an immediate meeting to explore the available options, but in a reply of 24 September, repeated the demand that the Government require the DAA or Aer Lingus to vacate hanger six.
I assure the House that the Government is entirely serious about this project. Ryanair is imposing significant conditions, one of which, the refusal to talk to the Dublin Airport Authority, is difficult but perhaps not impossible to meet. While I will do everything possible to find a way around this condition, the second condition, that Ryanair must have hangar 6, is much more problematical. Hangar 6 is not available; it is licensed to Aer Lingus. However, Ryanair can do in Dublin exactly what it is doing in Prestwick, namely, build a hangar at the airport to accommodate a maintenance operation.
I strongly encourage Mr. Michael O’Leary to re-engage in discussions on the available options for establishing a Ryanair maintenance operation at Dublin Airport in the context of his meeting with me later this evening. As Mr. O’Leary appears to accept, there is a wealth of skills available to support such an operation at the airport. With common sense and determination, an arrangement can be arrived at which would be in the interests of both the airline and the people of north Dublin.
Deputy Leo Varadkar: I thank the Tánaiste for her statement. This debate is about the 800 or so redundant, highly skilled former employees of SR Technics who lost their jobs and, in many cases, most of their pensions. I am not interested in a bun fight between the Tánaiste, Mr. Michael O’Leary and Ryanair, the Dublin Airport Authority or the IDA, nor am I interested in political egos, bullying businessmen or State agencies and companies protecting their territory. Like every other Member of the House, I am interested in securing jobs and investment for Dublin Airport and north Dublin.
I ask the Tánaiste to do the one thing she has not done to date, namely, take a hands-on approach to jobs and investment. She took a hands off approach to Dell, the mid-western task force, SR Technics and Kraft Cadbury. I ask her not to take such an approach on this or any other future occasion but instead to do everything in her power to ensure the jobs and investment in question come to Dublin, whether to hangar 6, hangars 1 to 5 or another location.
The Tánaiste must ensure the same supports are made available to Ryanair, a successful, indigenous Irish company, as are made available to foreign companies, which receive much larger grants for providing many fewer jobs. In that respect, she will be familiar with a jobs announcement by Bell Laboratories in recent weeks. While I do not criticise the decision taken in that matter, there is a major distinction between her approach to foreign direct investment and her approach to indigenous Irish companies which are prepared to invest and create hundreds of jobs here.
Deputy Mary Coughlan: My approach to all job creation opportunities is that a point of first contact is made with the relevant agencies, whether Enterprise Ireland, the IDA or Údarás na Gaeltachta. This point of contact is most appropriate in dealing with commercially sensitive issues which arise with regard to any company that wishes to come to this country. I take exactly the same approach to working with IDA companies as I do to indigenous companies.
In the context of what took place in SR Technics, about which the House had many discussions, including, I believe, a Private Notice question, I met union representatives and worked with the proposed memorandum of understanding. Unfortunately, the proposal was not successful on the basis that it required people to forego their entire redundancy payments and access to venture capital was difficult. That being said, the group set up to support aviation worked with the organisation and groups in question. I also met many Deputies to discuss the matter.
I was personally involved on a number of occasions with Dublin Aerospace. Diplomatic efforts were required from the Minister for Foreign Affairs to facilitate conversations with the Government of Abu Dhabi. The express wish of the sovereign Government of Ireland, to support the facilitation and containment of jobs in this country, was realised with clear investment from the Government, including through State agencies.
We set up the organisation in question. It is working well and we wish it well in the expectation and anticipation that the contracts it has won thus far will clearly embed it in Dublin. Additional considerations and discussions on further development in the airport arising from the loss of jobs at SR Technics are taking place, although I am not yet in a position to outline them to the House. As I stated, I take the same hands-on approach to all companies, whether they are clients of the IDA, Enterprise Ireland or county enterprise boards, while my colleague deals with Údarás na Gaeltachta.
It is important in terms of the public mind to reiterate that I and the agencies I represent, in consultation and discussion with the DAA and Minister for Transport, constantly support new investment opportunities in the airport. We are being as fair and reasonable as we can be to Ryanair. I look forward to examining the company’s business plan, which we have not seen thus far, and proposals to create an additional 300 jobs in order that we may determine whether we are in a position to support the company either, as stated in the letter of last September, through the facilitation of its enterprise in the existing hangar complement or the provision of a new build similar to that being provided by the Scottish authorities. As with all other Deputies, I am more than willing to support this but it can only be done within the realms of possibility rather than probability. in the context of any job opportunities that may arise my agencies, the first point of contact regarding all job creation opportunities, will continue to be available, as will I and my colleagues who have also been available to Members.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: Does the Tánaiste agree that when, on the national airwaves, she answered “No” to a question as to whether she would make a telephone call to Mr. Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, she gave the impression that she had no interest in becoming personally involved in the dynamic of making things work and that she leaves such matters to her agencies? Is it not the case that while Ministers will turn up for photo opportunities and television pictures, when hard work must be done, as was the case here, the Tánaiste did not pick up the telephone or say “Yes”? Does she agree that she has given the clear impression that she does not hear the voices of anger and frustration of more than 800 people who lost their jobs in SR Technics and does not care about how they feel?
Does the Tánaiste agree that there is room for everybody — Aer Lingus, Ryanair, the Dublin Airport Authority and the Minister — to sit around a table to secure an agreement and bring jobs to north Dublin? Given the jobs crisis, with more than 400,000 people without work, does she agree that her lax and laid-back response is unacceptable?
Will the Tánaiste indicate what involvement, if any, the Minister for Transport and his Department have had in the discussions? She referred to the Minister in her statement, as did Mr. O’Leary when he spoke on the airwaves yesterday. What action is the Tánaiste taking? Why did she refuse to make a telephone call? Does she not agree that she has shown a clear lack of energy, enthusiasm and commitment to secure the jobs in question, having refused point blank to pick up a telephone and call the chief executive of an Irish company? If the person in question was the chief executive of Google or another major international company, the Tánaiste would fly with a band to the United States to meet him. Is it not the case that Mr. O’Leary believes the Tánaiste, by her attitude, is neglecting the potential of his company to create jobs in Dublin Airport?
Deputy Mary Coughlan: The image the Deputy portrays is based on people not having the full facts. The full facts were not available to readers of the latest edition of the Sunday Independent and I was not afforded an opportunity to set the record straight, which is what I am doing now. On Monday morning, my Department received a letter indicating that Mr. O’Leary was making a decision on investment in Prestwick. That was the first correspondence between him and me since the final letter in September in which he thanked the IDA, following on from his annual general meeting, and said that although we did a considerable amount of work the matter was not in a position to progress and that he could not get access to hangar 6.
It is important that I take the opportunity to give the chronology of events that took place. It is equally important to say that I do not flaunt in the media the work I do in the context of my job as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on the basis that I hold the highest regard for those who discuss their commercially sensitive issues with me and my agencies. I will not break their confidence and that is one of the reasons they will come and discuss these issues with the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and me.
The final decision making for investmentby IDA and Enterprise Ireland on behalf of the taxpayer is done forensically on behalf of the State, with outside independent evaluation of the worth of a project in terms of whether that investment, the job portfolio or research and development opportunities will stand up. It would be remiss of me if I did not make sure that happened. Political charges would be made in this House if I instructed any of my agencies to make decisions that did not stand up on behalf of the taxpayer or the people who wish to be employed in any company.
It is important, therefore, that any trade mission or discussions I have with chief executive officers, public representatives or anyone else are based on the supports and encouragement I can give my State agencies and that the funding which is administered on behalf of the taxpayer does not show any lack of enthusiasm or hard work on my part to support job creation and the sustainability of jobs here.
Following on from the interview — and I was taken aback that Mr. O’Leary posted a letter to me because he normally likes to send faxes and have an immediate contact — I faxed his office immediately on Monday morning. I had a public engagement and was not in a position to do anything about that. A letter was sent by me to Mr. O’Leary. He responded. He requested a meeting and I agreed that we would have a meeting — we will have a meeting this evening — to ascertain if there are new opportunities available to us to support those jobs.
The Deputy talked about the role of the Minister for Transport. I kept the Minister for Transport fully briefed and we worked closely together following the decision by SR Technics to leave this country and the implications that would have for aviation policy. The aviation sector was going through a very difficult time in which many of the big names in aviation were being lost and where we had protracted negotiations with many of the large aviation bodies throughout the world. At that time we invested considerable time and resources in doing our utmost to sustain employment following the removal of SR Technics.
I have a litany of correspondence and discussions that took place between IDA, me, the DAA and Ryanair which started on 26 February 2009 and continued on 3 March, 24 April, 30 April, 1 May, 22 May, 10 June, 2 July, 21 July, 22 July, 12 August, 13 August, 14 August, 17 August, 18 August, 19 August, 25 August and 27 August. There was a second correspondence and discussion on 27 August and yet another one on the evening of 27 August. It continued on 28 August, 1 September, 4 September and the evening of 4 September, 7 September, 9 September and 10 September, which culminated with final correspondence between 17 September and following on from the company’s AGM on 24 September. There has been a great deal of interaction between the company and the agencies, the DAA, through an intermediary, the Minister for Transport and me in the context of securing this project.
I firmly believe that if we have a cogent business plan which will stand up, and which I assume Mr. O’Leary has in the context of the sustainability and development of his company, and the offers that have been made available by me and-or the IDA on my behalf, with the DAA, to facilitate either a new build, as has been the case in Prestwick, or the availability of other hangars to support that, we will do everything we can to make sure that works.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: The 800 or 900 skilled men and women who are still unemployed and who are chasing after FÁS courses, back to education schemes and so on should be at the forefront of all our concerns. They, like me, believe that SR Technics did not need to close. It was unilaterally closed by Sheikh Mohammed Al-Maktoum in a very unfriendly act towards this country but we could still have that business. As the Minister is aware, day after day I made many representations to her and to the Taoiseach about this matter.
First, in regard to Ryanair, is it the case that this year, 2010, 150 jobs are being removed by Ryanair from its aviation operation, that last November 50 jobs were taken off the people on the desks and, therefore, within the past few months 200 jobs have been removed by Ryanair from Dublin Airport and other jobs at Cork and Shannon? Is it not the case that Michael O’Leary has stated that approximately 2,000 support jobs are also gone? In fact, Michael O’Leary has taken away approximately 2,200 of our jobs in the past few months. Will the Minister confirm if that is the case? I am taking that information from Ryanair’s own statements.
I contacted him this time last year about working with SR Technics and taking over the workers’ plan the Minister referred to, which I have in front of me and which I believe is a viable plan, but he did not seem to be interested. He demurred, for whatever reason, and as the year went on I understand there were 30 expressions of interest in the equipment. Is it the case that Michael O’Leary did not put in an expression of interest for the equipment of SR Technics? That was my understanding at the time. There were two major expressions of interest, of which he was one, last August but he seems to have proceeded with his plan to base 400 jobs and 2,000 support jobs at Prestwick and not at Dublin or Shannon, which would be another important venue for Dublin Aerospace. I make many representations to the Minister and have met her to discuss the establishment of Dublin Aerospace. Is it the case that Michael O’Leary did not take an interest throughout much of last year in the moves being made to save the jobs before everybody left that premises?
That is Ryanair’s lease, as I understand it, but I also understand that he took the DAA to court about this and established some sort of a lien over that particular premises. We have seen terminal 6, and in Mr. O’Leary’s photographs from today I can see an AP unit in the back of the hangar. I understand that currently there are four or five hangars which are empty, and all that equipment I referred to was removed by the Arabs and taken back to Dubai and to Malta. Is it the case, therefore, that there is plenty of space for establishing a mighty aviation maintenance company if the Minister so desired? Is it the case that could simply be done?
I would like to see these jobs restored but I chased Ryanair, as I chased Aer Lingus, Aer Arann, the DAA and everybody, as did some of the colleagues in the House who were with me at some of those meetings, to protect SR Technics. If a procedure goes forward it is incumbent on us to ensure that it is a serious procedure to create jobs and not something that generates a great deal of publicity while covering up the fact that so many jobs have been lost. I understand Ryanair has got rid of three aeroplanes and that turnaround times are down. Mr. O’Leary blames the travel tax for the latter, a tax to which I am opposed. As I said, I hope this is a serious proposal and that space will be allowed to pursue it. The most important consideration is the more than 800 people, some of whom are in their mid-40s to late 50s and all of whom are highly skilled, who are left desolate since the closure of SR Technics. Ireland is a world leader in aircraft maintenance, as acknowledged by the United States, but we did not get a chance to prove it in this instance. I urge the Tánaiste to see what can be done to advance this proposal on a serious footing.
Deputy Mary Coughlan: I thank the Deputy for his constructive proposal. My colleagues on the benches behind me are ad idem with him on this issue. Our first objective in the context of aviation policy in this State is that we continue to have a viable Ryanair, a viable Aer Lingus and a viable Aer Arann. We are all agreed on that. Second, we want to ensure that those who lost their jobs in SR Technics are given an opportunity to use their skills for their own betterment and that of the State. I agree that Ireland has an excellent reputation in terms of its aircraft maintenance and aviation tradition. It may not be generally known that aviation is one of our largest sectors, both in terms of foreign direct investment and domestic industry. As the Deputy observed, we had discussions with union representatives and the agencies working with them but, unfortunately, the company was not seen to be viable.
On the issue of Dublin Aerospace, we were all involved in encouraging it to move through the difficulties and challenges that existed, and we were in a position to work through that and be successful. We hope it will continue to be even more successful. On the issue of tenancy at Dublin Airport, the Deputy is correct that there have been negotiations between the Dublin Airport Authority and Ryanair for hangars 1 and 2. I understand those negotiations have been completed. Hangar 6 is being leased by Aer Lingus, the garage is in use by a company called M50 Motors and Dublin Aerospace is in hangars 1 and 5. As I indicated, the DAA is in consultation with a new company in regard to hangar 3, and hopefully that arrangement will work well. Hangar 4 is an option available to Dublin Aerospace as it is not currently let. Therefore, there are options available within the existing complement, which is far greater than what is provided in Prestwick Airport, for example. I reiterate that we are in a position to put forward a proposal for a new build at the airport to facilitate Ryanair.
It is important to note that hangar 6 is used to service and support the much larger aeroplanes. I understand that is not yet within the complement of Ryanair’s fleet but it is the necessity for having hangar 6 available. I am not in a position to provide specific details on the reduction of numbers within the employ of Ryanair. My apologies to the Deputy that I do not have those, but I will ask the Minister for Transport to advise me of them. I agree that under normal circumstances, the first item that should be presented is a business plan. As of yet, no such plan has been presented to Mr. Barry O’Leary, chief executive officer of the IDA. We have an outline of a project but not a full business plan. If we are to proceed further, I will seek to examine the options set out within such a plan in the context of what can be done to support aviation and, most particularly, to have a new maintenance operation in Dublin. I put the view to Ryanair that Shannon was also available, but I understand the company does not have a specific interest in that airport.
Deputy Arthur Morgan: Does the Tánaiste believe that Ryanair is sincere in its position on this matter? It does not even have a business plan at this stage. If I or any other business person approached IDA, Enterprise Ireland or any other job creation agency without a business plan, we would be laughed out of the room. Does the Tánaiste suspect for even a moment that this may be an attempt by the chief executive officer of Ryanair to obtain cheap publicity and advertising? Is that a factor in her considerations? Does she understand why many people are sceptical about the actions of Ryanair? Does she believe the company is trying to get publicity on the backs of the hopes of the 830 former employees of SR Technics?
The Tánaiste alluded in her contribution to the availability of hangars one to five at Dublin Airport. In the absence of a business plan, can she, the IDA or anybody else evaluate whether those hangars would be suitable for the Ryanair project? The Tánaiste outlined several options, including a new build. Why does Ryanair want all this to happen within two weeks despite the fact that it has not produced a business plan to date? Is the Tánaiste suspicious of that?
The best solution to the SR Technics debacle would have been for the Government to have made the investment in buying out what was at the time a profitable company. Instead, the 830 jobs were lost to Malta, Abu Dhabi and Scotland. The Government should have ensured that the application to the European Commission under the European Globalisation Fund is not still pending. Is the Tánaiste aware that 20 former employees of SR Technics who applied to participate in a degree course at the Dublin Institute of Technology cannot do so because our application to the fund has not yet been cleared? If it is not approved within two weeks, as I understand it, they will not be accepted onto the degree course because the technology simply cannot process their applications without formal approval.
Deputy Mary Coughlan: The DAA, as I am aware from my discussions with it, is in a position to reconfigure the hangars at Dublin Airport to make them available, but it requires a specification of the needs of the company concerned in order to do so. That can be done in the context of a business plan. I hope that my discussions this evening with Ryanair representatives will involve a discussion of the framework of a business plan so that we can see how we may provide the possibility of offering support. Mr. Michael O’Leary has indicated that Ryanair is not seeking financial support from the State for this development, but that can be a matter for further discussion and negotiation.
I accept there are issues in regard to the European Globalisation Fund. I will meet the Commissioner following on from a new submission that is being prepared by my Department to support people who unfortunately have lost their jobs and would like to avail of further educational opportunities. We continue to provide those services through FÁS, the institutes of technology and the universities but if there are people who are experiencing specific difficulties, I will be glad to deal with them personally through my office.
Our business in this House is not to deal with what is put out in the media. I am concerned with examining a business plan and working with the relevant agencies to see whether these issues can be delivered. It is not beyond the capacity of Ryanair or any of our established airlines to be in a position to do that. In the context of further discussions tonight, I hope we will be able to move forward this matter. That will not be done on the basis of location in one way or another but on the basis of a substantial business plan that can provide jobs and support Ryanair’s development and embedment in the State.
Deputy James Reilly: I thank the Tánaiste for coming into the House to respond to these Private Notice Questions. I welcome the fact that she will meet Michael O’Leary notwithstanding her earlier reluctance. Several issues have to be pointed out. Will the Minister explain value for money on the basis of a maintenance line that employs 95 people carrying out ordinary line maintenance work such as checking tyres, engine oil and various other mundane activities in hangar 6, which is 25,000 sq. m., 250,000 sq. ft.? They would be lost at one end of it. It is akin to putting a corner shop into a hypermarket. It is not value for money for the taxpayer. We have a picture today of an empty hangar 6. I accept that Aerospace has come in there and I welcome that and the 30 jobs it has created so far and its plans for more.
Deputy James Reilly: Nonetheless it is true, and I am sure Deputy Kennedy will agree, Dublin Aerospace does not own any aeroplanes, it has to go out and seek the business. Ryanair, on the other hand, has 230 aircraft, rising, it hopes, very shortly to 300. It is the largest airline in the world, certainly in Europe. Aer Lingus has 31 planes.
The Minister said she would continue working and went through a long list of engagements. I put it to her that her approach to date is not working. It did not work with SR Technics the first time around, it did not work with Dell and it is not working with Ryanair to date. There is no legal impediment to the lease and the Minister is aware of that. There is a facility for Dublin Airport Authority to move a lessor from one part of the campus to another. It has been pointed out that 12 months notice might be required. That is a matter that is very easily negotiated and I have no doubt it has been done numerous times before.
I put it to the Tánaiste that in Michael O’Leary we have a “can do” businessman and what we need now is a “can do” Tánaiste to look after our workers who face a very difficult and uncertain future, and our country’s economy because we are facing the loss of a national industry in aircraft maintenance, one in which we were leaders, and no stone should be left unturned. A new approach must be taken because this opportunity cannot be lost and nobody in this House will be forgiven if we let it go. I implore the Tánaiste to adopt a new approach with a fresh attitude to ensure we get these jobs.
I met Mr. O’Leary this morning, as did others. In his discussion on Dublin’s Q102 with Deputy Darragh O’Brien who has expressed a lack of happiness with the manner in which this matter has been handled to date, he is hoping for a new approach. I share that hope as would all the people of Dublin North, all the workers and their families. I believe Michael O’Leary is serious about this issue. He may have other agendas as well, as I am sure he does, but when his agenda is confluent with our agenda in the creation of jobs we should do everything possible to ensure we conclude this matter in a successful fashion.
Deputy Mary Coughlan: I am very cognisant of that as well. I am also very cognisant of what was read by the Taoiseach in the context of the lease and the legalities of the situation. When Aer Rianta set up Team Aer Lingus with Aer Lingus, there was a covenant which meant that Aer Lingus would have a determination which it must discuss with Aer Lingus in any changes taking place in the leases. Three changes took place. There was Team Aer Lingus, the new company whose name escapes me——
Deputy Mary Coughlan: ——FLS, and SR Technics. SR Technics sold its facilities to Dublin Airport Authority but there was a caveat that Aer Lingus had to sign off and give permission for that to happen. That lease agreement, that caveat, that covenant, is legal.
Deputy Mary Coughlan: Many people in this country are very fond of court. I have asked to see the lease. I have seen the lease and it will stand up. On the basis of Aer Lingus signing off on that caveat, the DAA was in a position to give a licence to Aer Lingus for 20 years. What the Deputy is asking me to do is to tell someone who now has a legal lease licence to give that to someone else on the basis that their requirements must be met within hangar 6. That cannot happen on the basis that I have been advised that Aer Lingus’ requirements for the sustainability of the company can only be met in the context of its work within hangar 6——
Deputy Mary Coughlan: ——in its overall plan which it is developing. As I indicated that is a hangar for wide-bodied aircraft. If Aer Lingus was to be moved out of hangar 6, another hangar with the capacity to support and service wide-bodied aircraft would have to be built on the DAA premises. The Deputy is correct in saying there is provision within the lease that if it is the view of DAA for aviation reasons that someone has to be moved then people will be fully compensated.
Deputy Mary Coughlan: In the context of that new build which would have to be for Aer Lingus, what I said here is that the DAA is prepared to build a hangar or a site can be provided so that Ryanair can build its own hangar, similar to what is being provided in Prestwick. We are trying to be fair and reasonable to ensure we can work through the specifications, the needs and requirements of this company, through a business plan which I know it has the ability to compile so that if Ryanair wish to have a further maintenance programme in Dublin Airport then that can be facilitated.
Deputy Pat Breen: Aircraft maintenance facilities are extremely important to all airports particularly given the downturn in the aviation sector. Some 300 jobs in Dublin are extremely valuable. We know all about this in the mid-west region. In Shannon, we have Aerospace Limited, Aer Atlanta and the Aer Lingus facility which services the Airbus A330s, the wide-bodied aircraft. I wish the Tánaiste well in her deliberations and on her first date tonight with Michael I ask her to make Mr. O’Leary aware that Ryanair is about to axe 18 destinations at Shannon Airport which will have a huge impact on jobs in the area, and in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation. I implore the Tánaiste, given that she is having a meeting with Mr. O’Leary, to raise that area also. Along with 300 jobs in Dublin the loss to the mid west region could be almost 1,000 jobs. I ask the Tánaiste to raise that urgent issue because those services will be axed at the end of March.
In regard to the mid west task force and the Links project, which will create hundreds of jobs, what progress has been made since the recent Dáil debate? I appreciate there are problems in regard to EU competition. Will the Tánaiste ensure that Dublin Airport Authority makes the money available for those jobs because we too have an important role to play in the mid west in the aviation sector?
Deputy Mary Coughlan: I do not disagree that Shannon continues to be very important strategically in the context of aviation. There are a number of maintenance and support companies in Shannon for Lufthansa and Aer Lingus. While I support the Links project, as does the Minister for Transport, all the Deputies in the mid west region and the DAA, it is not fully mature yet in order to move on to final decision making. There are issues with EU competition but we are working towards resolving that matter. The task force has afforded it a high priority and we will ensure, in the context of the former’s final report, it remains so.
Deputy Mary Coughlan: Although Dublin Airport is the preferred option, I could find as good a solution for Ryanair — in the context of a base for its maintenance operation — at Shannon Airport if it so desired.
Deputy Finian McGrath: We all want to replace the jobs lost as a result of the closure of SR Technics. It is important that we should focus on this objective. At the same time, I am conscious of the fact that Aer Lingus must not be shafted. It must be remembered that SR Technics and Aer Lingus have made a major contribution to the economy on the north side of Dublin.
The Tánaiste indicated that there has been a major interaction in respect of this matter in recent days. Does she accept that the public’s perception is that this is not the case? Does the Tánaiste believe Mr. Michael O’Leary’s claim regarding the 300 jobs? Is Mr. O’Leary genuine and sincere in this regard?
Many Deputies refer to Irish industry not being provided with adequate supports. Business interests regularly state — I usually hear this three or four times each week — that there is not enough hype surrounding the creation of perhaps five or six jobs by a small business in areas such as that which I represent, which is located on Dublin’s northside and where massive investment is required. Will the Tánaiste guarantee that the small businesses to which I refer will receive the same support, advice and investment as do the big boys from foreign countries which establish operations here? If we are to get out of the mess we are in, we cannot completely rely on multinational companies because they will move when they can obtain the services of cheaper labour in other countries. That factor must be contemplated by the economic policy of any Government. If it emerges, following tonight’s meeting, that the project to create 300 jobs at Dublin Airport is genuine and viable and if a credible business plan is put forward, does the Tánaiste have available to her the funds required to provide assistance to it?
Deputy Mary Coughlan: Ryanair is an international plc and Mr. O’Leary is a seasoned executive. In such circumstances, I have no reason to doubt what he is saying. To progress the discussions, however, a viable business plan must be put forward. This can then be examined by the relevant agencies. As already stated, Government support for a company such as Ryanair will equal that which would be made available to any other company establishing operations here.
As the Deputy is aware, we are restricted in the context of some of the supports we can provide in respect of Dublin. However, there are other supports which can be given to any company that wishes to establish operations here. I reiterate that the options of either reconfiguring the hangar space or constructing a new hangar are very much on the table.
I have no reason to doubt Mr. O’Leary’s sincerity with regard to this issue. As already stated, however, this matter is best dealt with in the context of the normal, professional, businesslike discussions that take place with companies, be they indigenous or otherwise. I appreciate what the Deputy said in respect of funding. Even though resources are scarce, there is no question of there not being sufficient funds available to support employment creation here.
Deputy Michael Kennedy: As a Deputy who represents north Dublin, I want to ensure that 300 jobs or more are created at Dublin Airport. Such an eventuality would be to the benefit of the Dublin region and the country in general.
The discussions that are due to take place tonight are extremely welcome. There are those who have suggested that the Tánaiste, her office and IDA Ireland have been lax. However, the litany of correspondence and communications which passed among her office, IDA Ireland, Ryanair and the DAA and which she outlined to the House is clear proof that there a great deal of discussion has taken place.
I regret that five months after this matter first came to light, Ryanair is now stating that it has several proposals. I spoke to Mr. O’Leary on the telephone yesterday and I and a number of colleagues met him this morning. I am of the opinion that the jobs on offer are genuine. Deputy Reilly appears to be extremely dismissive of Aer Lingus, Dublin Aerospace and the DAA.
Deputy Michael Kennedy: The reality is that the hangar Ryanair is constructing at Prestwick Airport is smaller than any of hangars at Dublin Airport. I understand this hangar will measure between 5,000 sq. m to 6,000 sq. m. Hangar 1 at Dublin Airport measures 8,400 sq. m, hangar 2 measures 5,300 sq. m, hangar 3 measures 8,300 sq. m, hangar 4 measures 5,400 sq. m, hangar 5 and hangar six measures 24,848 sq. m. The hangar at Prestwick will be almost five times smaller than hangar 6 at Dublin Airport. Why are Ryanair and Mr. O’Leary adamant that they must get their hands on the latter?
I accept that Mr. O’Leary wants to create 300 jobs and I would welcome such an eventuality. However, I do not believe hangar 6 is the key to the creation of those jobs. When I asked Mr. O’Leary about the size of the Prestwick hangar this morning, he was not in a position to provide an answer. Perhaps he does not know what will be its dimensions. If that is the case, I find it strange. I want to know what will be the exact dimensions of that plant. If it will be possible to accommodate 200 employees at a hangar measuring 5,000 sq. m, then surely a hangar measuring 7,000 sq. m to 8,000 sq. m would be required to accommodate 300 employees. Any of the existing hangars at Dublin Airport could facilitate Ryanair in this regard.
As a Deputy representing Dublin North, I want the Dublin Airport to be viable and I want Aer Lingus and other airlines flying out of the facility to thrive. I also want the Dublin Airport Authority, which is a major employer in the region, to continue to operate a good, cost-effective service. Dublin Aerospace, a small company, has created 100 jobs and not the derisory 30 jobs to which Deputy Reilly referred. It has plans to create a further 250 jobs.
Deputy Michael Kennedy: I am seeking fair play. I want Michael O’Leary and Ryanair to have the opportunity to create jobs. During their discussions later tonight, will the Tánaiste ask Mr. O’Leary, in the context of moving forward, whether he will accept space in any of the other hangars at Dublin Airport? Will she also obtain legal advice in respect of the legal agreement Aer Lingus signed? I am sure that, like me, Deputy Reilly and others read the document issued to us earlier today. It is clear that the agreement to which I refer has a 12-month cancellation period built into it. Michael O’Leary has indicated that we have three weeks in which to make a decision on this matter.
I would like the Tánaiste to establish if it would be possible to break the contract. If it is possible to do so, how will it be possible to service the Boeing 747 aircraft belonging to Aer Lingus to which line maintenance is currently carried out in hangar 6?
Deputy Mary Coughlan: I appreciate that the Deputy, like every other Member of the House, is representing his constituency. As already stated, we will engage in discussions with Mr. O’Leary on this matter in a matter of minutes. It is important to reiterate that Aer Lingus has a 20 year entitlement to hangar 6. The legalities of that, the leases and licences, have been examined. Deputy Kennedy is correct to state there would be a 12-month cancellation period if Aer Lingus was of the view that it should sub-lease through the DAA. I indicated through the Minister for Transport, his Department officials and the DAA that Aer Lingus has indicated that the hangar is intrinsically part of consolidating its presence at Dublin Airport, having all of its crew operations together, saving money and solidifying its business. That is why I state that although this House has given the DAA a legal mandate as a commercial semi-State body, as it has to Aer Lingus, I will do all I can to try to deal with the impasse of a lack of conversation between the DAA and Mr. O’Leary. That can be done through my offices or through a third party, the IDA. However, we continue to have a difficulty in that Mr. O’Leary’s view is that the only option is hangar 6. I will put forward the view that alternatives can be provided, as I outlined to Members of the House over the past while.
Deputy Joan Burton: I want to speak because I also represent many of the workers who lost their jobs and who are among the most highly-skilled people in the country. The time on the certification they hold is running out. Many of them are making valiant efforts to do FÁS courses and various other personal education. However, because they are highly qualified aircraft engineers they must keep their qualifications up to date or they expire. Recently, I met a significant number of the workers and it was one of the saddest meetings of my political life to see so much skill going a-begging.
What the Tánaiste has described is an unholy mess. We have the worst example of crony capitalism in operation here that I have ever heard described. Will the Tánaiste confirm that in November 2008 the Dublin Airport Authority gave an agreement to SR Technics to give back the hangar? Will she agree that was one of the precipitating factors in collapsing SR Technics in Ireland and allowing it to go to Switzerland and Malta and to establish equivalent facilities somewhere in the gulf?
Aer Lingus is a private company but the State is a significant shareholder. What involvement did State representatives on the board have in the decision by Aer Lingus to outsource key maintenance from this country and send it abroad? That was also an early nail in the coffin. The problem is that the Tánaiste does not seem to have been aware that what was happening was the planned walk-out from this country of a critical industry employing more than 1,000 skilled people, mostly men. It is an extraordinary industrial fiasco.
What we are listening to here is constructive obstruction. Many people are holding their noses, as it were, against Michael O’Leary. All of us have views on him but a bags has been made of this. Where is the Minister for Transport as this debate takes place? He is from a nearby constituency and knows many of the workers personally.
Deputy Joan Burton: Where is he? To some degree, the Tánaiste is carrying the can for him and I feel sorry for her in that respect because he is not here to answer for the debacle that has happened. He has not even graced the debate with his presence. I ask the Tánaiste where is her companion. What is so pressing that he does not have to be here to address what is a total debacle? Mr. Charlie Haughey must be turning in his grave when one thinks of the long history of Fianna Fáil and the ins and outs of Dublin Airport and the various outfits and organisations and Shannon Airport.
We are hearing about constructive obstruction in which the Tánaiste is almost like the ringmaster. The DAA does this, then Aer Lingus does that and the Tánaiste produces ten page memoranda but there is no outcome or conclusion. The Tánaiste does not even have anything to say to people in Shannon about transport and employment policy in that area. Even Denis Brosnan, who is well known for his earlier admiration of Fianna Fáil, had to throw up his hands and say it has nothing to offer. Will the Tánaiste tell us where the Minister for Transport is? Why is she carrying the can? I know she had an able row of people to support her but she has no answers. The Minister for Transport must have some of the answers. All I have heard here is pure waffle and there is not one job in it.
Deputy Mary Coughlan: The tenor and tone of this questions and answers have been good. Deputy Burton is incorrect in many of her accusations. Although many jobs were lost at SR Technics we had success with Dublin Aerospace——
In 2008 I attended a function in Zurich where I met the chief executive of SR Technics and a number of the Dublin management. I met the Dublin management because they advised me of serious concerns about the viability of the company because Aer Lingus sent its heavy maintenance contract to France——
Deputy Mary Coughlan: ——a decision was made even though we were in the process of further discussions with SR Technics management in Switzerland regarding the viability of the project. However, the company made the decision it made and it was on the basis of the fact that the management proposal was not accepted by the senior executives of SR Technics and the fact that a new chief executive was appointed——
Deputy Mary Coughlan: ——as he was probably advised by Deputy Broughan, who took the view that the company would not be viable in Europe and would have to be moved elsewhere. We are not engaging in constructive obstruction; we are dealing with reality. If the Deputy does not want to deal with reality or legal requirements.
Deputy Mary Coughlan: What I can do is put forward proposals, alternatives and support structures that can be offered when the business plan is brought forward during my discussions in ten minutes time with Mr. O’Leary. It has nothing to do with personalities or who is on the front page of the newspapers. It is about the bona fides of a proposal and how it can be supported in light of the disquiet and concern caused by two matters. The first matter is that Mr. O’Leary does not wish to converse with the DAA even though, as I have noted, an executive has been in a position to negotiate with the DAA for hangars one and two. I have proposed that the IDA or I would act as an intermediary. The second matter is that hangar six is unfortunately not available. However, we are prepared to provide other hangar facilities at Dublin Airport with our existing complement, build and lease a facility or provide a site similar to what is being provided in Scotland. I believe that, despite slight rancour, everybody in this House wants to ensure the jobs can be brought to Dublin Airport if they are available. For the benefit of Shannon representatives, Shannon Airport can equally be mentioned.
Acting Chairman: I am obliged to remind Members that this matter must conclude by 6.55 p.m. A number of Members will not be able to speak and I do not know how I am going to get out of this. The next speaker is Deputy Joe Carey but this session must conclude at 6.55 p.m. or there will be difficulties.
Deputy Joe Carey: I also wish to refer to the issue of Ryanair’s discontinuation of routes from Shannon. I ask the Tánaiste to raise that issue with Michael O’Leary because it is having a devastating effect on the region. I appeal to her to use her Office in that regard.
Deputy Mary Coughlan: If things get tight, we will have to mention Knock and Cork in case I am seen to be partisan. If I had a big enough airport in County Donegal, I would speak up for it too. To be fair and sensible, the discussions are with the DAA because the issue arises in Dublin. We are open to offering alternatives to any option.
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