Talks break out in Shannon dispute

Aer Lingus pilots have agreed to call off their planned 48 hour strike after airline bosses went into talks over the airline’s controversial announcement two weeks ago to axe the Shannon Heathrow route and open a hub in Belfast.

Almost 500 pilots were due to stage a two day protest from midnight tonight, affecting tens of thousands of passengers.

The move of services from Shannon Airport in the west of Ireland to Belfast has seen mass protests and is now expected to culminate in a shareholder showdown, mainly precipitated by rival airline Ryanair.

The position of the Dublin government in the controversy has been made increasingly difficult by the Ryanair action, which means that a simple vote of the government’s shareholding could ensure the move is blocked.

In its first intervention since the news broke, 26-County Minister Mary Hanifan claimed that it would be “inappropriate for the government to intervene in the decision-making of a private company” and by doing so “would ultimately be damaging to the company and its customers”.

However, a group of civil servants from several Dublin departments is to assess the impact of the cuts at Shannon Airport and the local economy, and look at the options for air links out of the mid-west.

Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan has demanded that the government “take its head out of the sand” and use its position in the company to safeguard the national interest.

“Surely government intervention is the very reason why a 25.1% shareholding in the company was retained,” he said.

“When Sinn Féin TDs forewarned then Minister for Transport Martin Cullen in Dail debates of the economically dangerous implications of privatising the airline the Ministers repeatedly responded that the ‘shareholding would safeguard the national strategic interest’.

“Sinn Féin also highlighted at the time that this was an empty promise as Fianna Fail was and still is committed to a privatisation agenda.”

Mr Morgan said his party believed the Belfast Assembly and the Dublin government “can work together to ensure equitable investment in the country’s regions”.

“We believe that Aer Lingus can develop its business opportunities in Belfast whilst maintaining the Shannon to Heathrow route,” he added.

“As the company leases a number of its slots to other carriers I can see no reason why some cannot be utilised to service the Belfast routes whilst preserving the Shannon service.”

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