“Me,” you reply perkily, “I couldn’t be better.”
Such was the nature of Willie O’Dea’s reaction to what amounted to a public dressing down by Cabinet colleagues over Shannon.
The Minister for Defence professed himself “extremely pleased” with the outcome of yesterday’s marathon Cabinet discussion on Shannon, and, to boot, asked all the groups lobbying to retain the Shannon to Heathrow service to step back to allow the Government space to resolve the crisis.
But what is the resolution? Was the Government going to force Aer Lingus’s hand? Was it going to use the ‘golden share’ it so mercilessly hyped (reminds you of a sheep in wolf’s clothing) to force Dermot Mannion and his management buddies to back off? Was it going to abstain – or worse, still back Ryanair – in a vote if an Emergency General Meeting is held in October?
Erm, no. The Government yesterday said what it has been saying over the past month. The Aer Lingus decision is a done deal and it’s not going to be reversed. That means it’s not going to interfere with the decision. It also means (but this has yet to be teased out) that it won’t vote against the Aer Lingus management if Ryanair gets its way and forces an EGM on the Heathrow slots issue. It also means that it won’t even abstain.
If you can square Willie O’Dea’s earlier descriptions of ‘Armageddon’ and Shannon being ‘cut off from the rest of the world’ with yesterday’s ‘extremely pleased’ then you will have cracked the mystery that is Fianna Fail’s enduring ability to be for and against something at the same time.
All those empty stories of rebellion and cabinet splits came to naught. Eamon O Cuiv and John Gormley never questioned the agreed Government position, despite attempts by the Sunday Independent to paint them as rebels. And Willie O’Dea’s protests were always going to be more about form than substance.
All of the Government’s efforts will now be thrown into finding an alternative carrier to connect Shannon to an international hub. But talks with airlines are not as advanced as were reported this week. The Government knows that it will have a full-blown crisis on its hand if some alternative is not found – with a lot of the most pugnacious stuff coming from FF TDs and Senators in the region.
Politically too, the Government deserves to take a pasting for over-exaggerating the influence of the so-called ‘golden share’ last October. Never once was it mentioned during the Ryanair takeover battle that Shannon was in danger of losing its slots, even though the Transport Minister admitted yesterday that possibility was known at the time.
But since about August 12, its line has been clear. Dempsey even stood over his comments back then that some of the claimed impacts were “exaggerated”. He agreed yesterday it would have ‘some impact’ and the Government’s was discounting that. But he said that some people were talking about the lost of 10,000 jobs and 50,000 jobs and of the region being devastated.
“Overly stating the impact can do damage to the region. We do not want to create an impression that there is devastation (when there’s not),” he argued.
There were some scarier statements, he said. And what about the Armageddon envisaged by his Cabinet colleague Willie O’Dea.
“It applies to any of the scarier statement,” said Dempsey, lumping the Defence Minister with those who had exaggerated.
No wonder he was extremely pleased yesterday.