Western business groups come together to get Heathrow link reinstated

BUSINESS groups across the west coast will today launch a joint campaign to reinstate Heathrow flights at Shannon Airport.

The chambers in Limerick, Ennis and Shannon met yesterday to formulate a plan of action ahead of today’s industry rally organised by Shannon Development at the airport.

It will outline details of its action plan today, as well as releasing the contents of a letter sent to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and several senior ministers asking them to invest in the future of Shannon Airport.

Chief executive of the Limerick Chamber, Maria Kelly, said business groups were angered with Aer Lingus’s attitude to Shannon.

She said there was particular disappointment at the decision of Aer Lingus to abandon its Shannon-Heathrow route without talking with the airport first.

Ms Kelly said the company should not have relocated without asking what incentives were available and if the route could be made more profitable.

The airport had to find another airline with similar access to Heathrow and one that could safeguard Shannon’s future as an international link, she said.

“We need to re-establish the Heathrow route.

“But we also need to find alternative operators because we cannot continue to trust Aer Lingus to keep its transatlantic routes at Shannon,” Ms Kelly said.

Meanwhile, questions have emerged about the whereabouts of a €44 million marketing fund promised for the Shannon region.

This was to compensate the area for the loss of transatlantic business with the enforcement of the Open Skies agreement.

Cathoirleach of the Mid-West Regional Authority, Lily Wallace, said the money is still being held by the Department of Transport.

She said the local economy is being left to survive the affects of Open Skies and the loss the Heathrow connections without supports promised from Government.

“We have been writing to the Minister for Transport consistently on this, in June we got an acknowledgement back but nothing more,” she said.

Yesterday, the Department of Transport said it was not in a position to comment on the status of this fund.

Business groups were keen to stress the fallout of the Heathrow loss was not confined to the Mid-West.

In Galway, business leaders are concerned the move will heighten their geographical sense of isolation.

Last night, the combined tourism, business and information technology lobby in Galway gathered for an emergency meeting.

President of Galway Chamber and Deputy President of Chambers Ireland Dr Chris Coughlan chaired the meeting.

“For companies in Galway and the West it has an immediate affect on their ability to do business, it has an impact on future growth plans for companies and the chances for attracting new investment,” Dr Coughlan said.

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