Enda Kenny: Political block of Norwegian Air's transatlantic flights lifted

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the political block of Norwegian Air's longstanding bid to fly trans-Atlantic from Cork Airport appears to have lifted, writes Daniel McConnell, Political editor.

The matter was raised by Cork South West TD Jim Daly in the Dail, who called on the Taoiseach to convene a mission to Washington DC in a bid to resolve the dispute.

Mr Daly said: “It is not safety reasons blocking this, it is not commercial reasons, it is purely political. There is a political deadlock preventing all transatlantic traffic coming into the second largest airport in the country,” he said.

“Now with a new administration coming into Washington, would he consider sending a delegation to Washington to ask that politics be taken out of this,” Mr Daly said.

In response, Mr Kenny said the Government has supported and continues to support the Norwegian Air project and that he and several of his ministers have raised the matter in Washington consistently in recent years.

“The Government support this. The opportunity that exists from this Norwegian Airlines to be able to fly the Atlantic and land in Cork, Shannon and to a lesser extent Knock. This matter has been raised by the ministers over the years,” he said.

“I myself had the opportunity to raise it directly with the President of the United States on two successive St Patrick's week visits,” Mr Kenny added.

“The union of airline pilots were blocking this for some time.They have lifted that blockage and they are happy to go ahead provided the pilots who fly the routes were paid at European and US rates. There was a fear that pilots from the Far East only flying the routes at a lower rate,” Mr Kenny told the Dail.

He said he would be “very happy” to continue to make the case on behalf of Cork Airport.

Meanwhile, the costs associated with the building of the National Childrens' Hospital have doubled to more than €1bn, it was claimed in the Dail.

Tipperary Rural Independent Alliance TD Mattie McGrath said the costs involved in the project are now like a “runaway train”, which prompted some hilarity the Dail chamber given news reports in this morning's papers about the Limerick-Ballybrophy line costing €550 per passenger.

Mr McGrath told the Dail he still opposed plans to locate the hospital at St James’s Hospital in central Dublin.

He said the projected cost over-runs could fund a resolution of the public pay crux and fix health service problems like those at Clonmel Hospital.

“What is staggering is that these costs exclude fit-out costs for equipment and IT,” Mr McGrath said.

He called on the Taoiseach if he wanted to be remembered in the future as the person who presided over such huge cost over-runs.

In response, Mr Kenny said the planned new hospital would provide children’s health services for the next 50 years.

He said the matter would be subject of a memo to Government from Public Spending Minister, Paschal Donohoe, and Health Minister, Simon Harris, which caused the two ministers to appear somewhat surprised in the Dail chamber.

Mr Kenny said value for money would be central to government deliberations.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin focused on what he said was the funding crisis in the Institutes of Technology countrywide. Mr Kenny said a new third level college funding plan was currently being prepared and will be ready by the middle of next year.

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