Aer Lingus sale puts economies of Cork, Limerick and Shannon at risk

Conor Healy: Businesses see London link as vital.

Ireland’s regional economies risk being cut off from inward investment and face potential job growth devastation if the Aer Lingus sale to IAG goes through.

That was the claim made by business representatives from Cork, Limerick, and Shannon’s chambers of commerce during a three-hour meeting with TDs yesterday, warning that the possible deal must only be accepted if “legally binding cast-iron guarantees” are enshrined to protect otherwise vulnerable regional hubs.

Speaking at the Oireachtas transport committee, representatives of Aer Lingus workers warned that 1,200 people — one in four of the airline’s workers — could lose their jobs if the Government agrees to sell its 25.11% stake to IAG for €340m.

However, the chambers officials said the implications for others seemingly unaffected by the offer could be far worse. They claimed IAG’s track record in takeovers suggests it would close or downgrade routes to regional airports whose local economies depend on outside access, a move that would cause havoc to businesses, job growth and the national economic recovery.

The Cork chamber chief executive, Conor Healy, whose group represents over 1,000 businesses employing over 100,000 people in the country’s second city, said the “economic hub of southern Ireland” would be unable to attract multinationals if Aer Lingus lost its slots at Heathrow in London to other IAG routes.

He said “almost two thirds of businesses” in Cork saw the Heathrow hub as central to accessing Munster, and that these people would no longer see the viability of setting up in Munster if the deal went through.

Fine Gael TD for Kerry South, Brendan Griffin, raised similar concerns about the future of the Kerry to Dublin route — currently run through a deal with Stobart Air — in the event of a sale, with Limerick and Shannon’s chambers of commerce noting near identical fears.

The same concerns were raised about potential damage to Dublin, with the groups warning if IAG came under pressure it would be more likely to cut the “regional” city’s route compared to London or more profitable areas.

Even if a deal is brokered to protect the existing Aer Lingus slots at Heathrow, the groups said it must be a long-term plan of 15 years to protect the Irish economy, and must ensure the spaces are divided fairly between Irish airports.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe met with more than a dozen Labour TDs, with none supporting the sale.

READ MORE: Unions say Aer Lingus bid will see job losses

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