Embattled west must prepare for cuts

It may have proved a futile gesture, but the man who drove his truck at Leinster House gates yesterday morning - believed to be a Galway-based businessman who previously struck in Galway - demonstrates the sheer frustration and anger many people in Ireland are currently feeling. His anger comes the same week it was revealed former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Sean Fitzpatrick’s wife retains more than €1 million in her bank account.

No matter who is to blame for the current crisis - though it is interesting to note the former Icelandic prime minister Geir Haarde has been referred to a special court to decide if he should face trial for his role in the financial crisis that struck the European country in 2008 - we can no longer deny budget cuts are necessary. And here in the embattled west we probably feel more aggrieved, particularly in a week when both our airport and our health are facing attack.

The Government established Public Service Obligation air services at a number of airports in Ireland on the basis that these services are considered vital for the economic development of their regions - these include Donegal, Sligo, Knock, Galway and Kerry. Does an improved road to Dublin mean a funded air service from Galway is no longer vital? The airport authorities and the Chamber of Commerce can understandably argue a city of Galway’s size and stature, that has been to the fore in attracting considerable foreign investment, needs to have air services available to service that business community.

The question could also be posed: are there too many airports along the western seaboard, serving small populated hinterlands? And would Galway Airport be able to stand alone without the PSOs if it were able to extend its runway to attract bigger airlines? Galway lacks a jet runway which limits the type of aircraft that can use it. A report prepared for the Department of Transport in 2003 argued that Shannon was the natural commercial airport for the Limerick-Clare-Galway region in a way that Galway cannot be because of infrastructural limitations. It believed the most natural location in this region for a service to Dublin could be Shannon in an unsubsidised post-stopover world. The report also found the cost of high frequency air service in small aircraft was far more expensive than larger jet aircraft. Interestingly the report also found that no quantification had been offered as to the benefits to tourism or regional development.

Now is the time Galway, its business and tourism communities, must demonstrate the importance of Galway Airport. As a major area of population, it is now up to Galway to prove it, above any other airport, deserves to have the PSOs retained in order to survive.

And if the Galway Airport should substantiate its claims for financial help, perhaps the HSE should also open its books for perusal? In a week when fears have been heightened because of proposed cuts to the health budget, perhaps, like many public bodies, it is reform that is necessary.

Linley MacKenzie

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