Airport abandoned in two-tier society

JUST as those people who live where public transport, decent broadband, a bank, a reassuring Garda presence, post offices, health services, and even schools are so easily accessible that they are taken for granted are bored by their country cousins’ constant complaints about the closure of what are, in 2015, basic social services, those people living in a hollowed-out, downgraded rural Ireland find the dismissive response from those lucky people insensitive, indifferent, and increasingly unacceptable.

Airport abandoned in two-tier society

The sustainability of rural Ireland and all of its communities — towns and cities too — is in question and the primary factors in this to-hell-or-Connacht decline are unemployment, and the inevitable emigration that follows, and the withdrawal of essential public services by Government.

In another chilling illustration of what can only be described as the distasteful contempt with which these issues are regarded, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe, when answering questions in the Dáil on the crisis facing Cork Airport, continued in the vein adopted by Dublin ever since the last government did a shameless, treacherous U-turn on a commitment made by the late Seamus Brennan of Fianna Fáil, the then transport minister, over the airport’s debt burden and independence. Mr Donohoe said nothing that would indicate a change of heart. Indeed, quiet the contrary, he said, basically, Cork Airport was on its own.

Essentially, Cork Airport is being crushed under the burden of a debt it had been promised by the government of the time that it would not have to deal with. Had such a liability been in prospect, the new terminal, opened in 2006, probably would not have been built and Cork would still be able to compete on a level playing field. The airport is also in the impossible position of being under the control of one of its main rivals — the Dublin Airport Authority. If that was not enough, it’s caught in a pincer movement by the independent and relatively debt-free Shannon and Kerry airports.

The tenor of Mr Donohoe’s response in the Dáil is unsettling, too. The main thrust of his answers suggests that the airport should renew its efforts to promote tourism and thereby generate more business — as if a few more golfers would solve its problem. Tourism is an essential element in any airport’s portfolio but today a regional airport is about far, far more. Essentially, it is about jobs. It is about being in a position to show foreign investors that there is easy access in and out of a region, that if they decide on a location they will not be in some remote outer satellite. Tragically, regional airports are about workers too, usually young family men who cannot find work at home, commuting to work abroad. If something is not done quickly to make it possible for Cork to compete on a level playing field, then those commuter flights will become the mainstay of the facility.

This is a two-tier society in many ways and if that gap, that expression of inequity, is not to be exacerbated then Government intervention is required on this issue. Especially as doing nothing would cost multiples of what it would cost to fix it. Enough disdain, let’s have solutions.

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