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Airport authority defends handling of debt crisis

By Eoin English
THE Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) last night defended its handling of the process designed to break the impasse on the controversial €160 million Cork Airport debt issue.

The DAA confirmed it had appointed consultants BDO Simpson Xavier to facilitate talks between the DAA and Cork Airport Authority (CAA) on who should carry the cost of Cork’s new passenger terminal.

A DAA spokesman also denied there was any conflict of interest despite BDO’s previous commercial relationship with the DAA.

The appointment has caused unease in Cork and there were calls again yesterday for the firm to withdraw its services.

Fine Gael’s Cork North Central TD Bernard Allen demanded full disclosure from the Government on the process.

But the DAA spokesman confirmed it was the authority which appointed the firm and which would pay its fees. There was no outside pressure from the Department of Transport and the appointment was ratified by the Cork Airport Authority (CAA), he said.

"This is an internal facilitation process. BDO Simpson Xavier was chosen because of its knowledge of both airports’ business plans," he said.

He declined to discuss the firm’s fees for commercial reasons.

The talks process is two weeks old and will take another four weeks, he said.

Minister of State Batt O’Keeffe called yesterday for time to allow the debt talks to take place.

He re-stated the Government’s position that company law prevents the transfer of debt from Cork to Dublin Airport - a situation which will effectively saddle Cork with the debt.

This situation was made clear in statements to the Dáil by former Transport Minister Seamus Brennan in June 2004 as legislation allowing for the break-up of Aer Rianta was passing through the Dáil, he said.

Mr O’Keeffe said it would be in everyone’s interest to wait for a recommendation from the consultants.

It is understood a soft-lease option, where the CAA would lease back its new terminal from the DAA for a nominal fee, may be among the recommendations following the talks.

But Mr Allen said: "We are being kept in the dark about this mediation process. We’re being asked to accept a process which could ultimately turn out to be simply a window-dressing exercise."

He wants to see the terms of reference given to the company and full details about its fees. He plans to quiz Transport Minister Martin Cullen on the issue in the Dáil next week.

Meanwhile, a cross-party delegation of Cork politicians, who met in City Hall two weeks ago to discuss the issue at the invitation of Lord Mayor Deirdre Clune, are still waiting for a date to meet Mr Cullen.

Ms Clune wrote to Enterprise Minister Micheál Martin yesterday seeking an update on the situation.