The long term future of Knock Airport was pushed to the front of political debate once again this week, even causing the suspension of standing orders at the annual budget meeting of Mayo County Council so it could be discussed before the €120 million budget was even considered, and later in the week necessitated a Government Minister’s department to issue a denial that he advised an airline to fly into Shannon rather than Knock.
The issue was kickstarted last Friday, when the members of Mayo County Council were invited to a meeting with the board of the airport who outlined their fears for the airport following the recent developments in Shannon Airport which was removed from State control.
At Monday’s county council budget meeting, the opposition members in the chamber demanded that the Fine Gael party ensured that An Taoiseach Enda Kenny meet with the board within the week.
When contacted by the Mayo Advertiser on Wednesday to see if any progress had been made in bringing this meeting any closer, Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council Cllr Cyril Burke said: “The date has been set for a meeting between the Taoiseach and the board for Monday January 21. There has been ongoing contact between his office on the board to arrange the meeting.”
A spokesperson for the airport welcomed the meeting, telling the Mayo Advertiser: “We welcome the opportunity to meet with An Taoiseach on January 21 and the opportunity to discuss a joint strategic plan to secure the airport’s future and for achieving growth and jobs targets for the region.”
Cathaoirleach Burke also called for clarity from all sides in response to a claim that was made at last Friday’s meeting that Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar had influenced an airline carrier to fly into Shannon rather than Knock. He said: “I’d also like to say that I’m a bit dismayed that Minister Varadkar had to come out and reject a statement made by Cllr Al McDonnell on the radio on foot of something we were told at last Friday’s meeting with the board. I’d like to see the board clarify this issue, so there is trust between both sides.”
When contacted by this paper, Cllr McDonnell said: “I was there at a meeting with 23 or 24 others and I heard it with my own two ears and I checked it afterwards with other colleagues. I wasn’t interested in who it was at the time, but more the fact that it was done.”
When Cllr McDonnell made these claims on local radio during the week, a spokesperson for the Minister responded in a short statement seen by this paper saying: “The allegation is totally untrue.
“The only conversation the Minister has in discussions with airlines is whether they will come to Ireland,” he added. “There was never any conversation by the Minister or any of his officials suggesting that any airline should come to one airport over another.”
When contacted for a statement on the issue a spokesperson for Ireland West Airport Knock said: “While we welcome Government support for all new air services to Ireland by international carriers, it is not the job of ministers for State to intervene or otherwise in influencing route network decisions to commence services to one Irish airport over another and we would hope this would not be the case.”