Cork Airport Authority to discuss €100m bill

CORK Airport Authority (CAA) will officially discuss at the start of next week the €100 million bill it would face under the findings of the Cassells report on the break-up of Aer Rianta.

However, pressure is already being put on board members to reject the proposals on the basis that any debt, especially one so high, flies in the face of Government promises that CAA would break away from the Dublin Airport Authority debt-free.

The report identifies a net debt position of €20-40m to be taken on board by CAA but does so on the basis that €50-70m is generated from the sale of development land and business park interests.

Yesterday in Cork, business leaders said land was already included in the deal and was automatically going to transfer to Cork with the Aer Rianta break-up.

CAA chairman and Cork Chamber of Commerce president Joe Gantly, attending the Irish Management Institute (IMI) conference in Wicklow, refused to comment other than to say there would be a meeting of the board “early next week”.

However, Conor Healy, Mr Gantly’s colleague in the Cork Chamber of Commerce said: “Effectively forcing (CAA) into the sale of lands to reduce its debt burden is not an acceptable solution.

“It was never envisaged that these assets would be separated out from the overall transfer of airport assets in this manner. In my view these assets are a part of Cork Airport and should transfer to the CAA as such. The real debt figure being proposed in this report is in excess of €100m which is well outside the range of debt which the CAA identified as being manageable.”

One informed source close to the authorities yesterday told the Irish Examiner the authorities had found the statement from Transport Minister Noel Dempsey — effectively telling the two sides to work it out for themselves — “fudgey”.

The minister said he believed the Cassells report “represented a sensible solution” which he urged both parties to accept as soon as possible and that he had asked Peter Cassells to assist the two boards to bring the issue to a “speedy, mutually acceptable conclusion”.

“Bearing in mind the report states both sides could not reach agreement, the minister would need to give clarity as to how he expects both sides to accept the report and what timeframe would constitute ‘speedy’,” the source said.

Reacting to the Cassells report and the minister’s response, Fine Gael said it was “short-sighted and unacceptable” of the minister to call on Cork Airport to accept a debt of more than €100m.

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