Brennan in bid to prevent further airport disruption

TRANSPORT Minister Séamus Brennan will meet with Aer Rianta unions in a bid to stave off further disruption for passengers at the country’s main airports.

But the minister is still refusing to meet the unions’ demands for an independent evaluation of his plans to break up Aer Rianta and make Dublin, Cork and Shannon independent. Yesterday, unions showed what damage could be caused by threatened industrial action when more than 30 flights and up to 4,000 passengers were affected when SIPTU held workers meetings at the three airports.

But SIPTU rowed back from balloting its members on industrial action and instead drew up a 10-point plan to stave off the break-up of the company.

The demands include an independent review of the break-up and the plan to develop a second independent private terminal at Dublin Airport. The union also wants guarantees on jobs, wages, terms and conditions and union involvement in the planning of the industry. SIPTU officials will now meet with the other Aer Rianta unions, Mandate, Impact and TEEU, to draw up a combined strategy before meeting the minister. SIPTU vice-president Jack O’Connor ruled out setting deadlines on getting a response to their demands or on setting a timeframe for when the union might take the next step to take a vote on industrial action.

“We are very reluctant to issue an ultimatum, as it is very difficult for people in public life to respond to that. There is a line to be walked there,” he said.

At Dublin Airport, 26 flights with up to 3,400 passengers were delayed when 700 staff attended a meeting, and at Cork, five flights with up to 850 passengers were affected but there was minimal impact at Shannon. Government sources, however, suggested that the lack of disruption at Cork and Shannon showed staff at those airports were supportive of the move to cut them free from Dublin.

Last night, the minister’s spokesman said Mr Brennan would meet with the unions any time, but won’t go back on his decision and says the break-up of Aer Rianta is totally justified. “The minister will talk about the implementation, but he’s not in favour of reviewing the Government’s decision,” he said.

Suggestions by SIPTU that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Mr Brennan were at odds over the proposals were also denied by the minister’s spokesman. “The Taoiseach has been very clear about it. There is no conflict that we are aware about,” the spokesman said. This morning, the Aer Rianta board of directors meets to discuss the break-up for the first time since the minister’s announcement last week and are expected to give their reaction afterwards. Also today, European Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio will be asked for her views on the break-up.

At the weekend, it was suggested that the EU might block the break-up as the company’s entire debt was being loaded onto Dublin Airport. But this was ruled out by Mr Brennan, who said that breaking monopolies and introducing competition were at the heart of EU policy.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and FG Clare TD Pat Breen meet with Commissioner de Palacio today to discuss the Aer Rianta issue along with the threat posed to the Shannon stopover by the Open Skies proposal.

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