By Harry McGee, Political Editor
DUBLIN Airport Authority did not inform Shannon Airport Authority that Aer Lingus was seriously considering transferring all its Heathrow slots to Belfast even though it became fully aware of the situation in June.
In a development that is likely to add to tensions between the Dublin Authority (DAA) and its Shannon subsidiary (SAA); a spokesman for DAA told the Irish Examiner this weekend that the DAA first learnt of the proposed move on June 13.
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The DAA say that the information (that Shannon might lose its slots) was received from the Department of Transport in the strictest confidence. Therefore, because of a Chinese Walls situation, it was not in a position on to its Shannon subsidiary.
Now all the interested parties, the Department, the DAA etc are saying that Shannon was only one of a number of options at that stage. But it's as clear as night follows day that on June 13, Belfast was already the clear favourite.
The principal officer in the Department of Transport took the trouble to ring up DAA after he had spoken to Aer Lingus. It's clear that his impression was that Aer Lingus were close to making a decision in favour of Belfast. That's the clear import of his memo for the minister's information that never made it to the Minister. It's agreed up to the highest political level (that's Noel Dempsey folks) that any fair reading of that memo would conclude that Belfast had almost had in the bag.
This morning, Tadhg Kearney, a board member of the Shannon Airport Authority was beside himself with irritation about the development. And his chairman Pat Shanahan has scheduled an emergency board meeting for tomorrow.
In a sense the DAA had its hands tied. The Department of Transport qua Government is a listed shareholder of Aer Lingus. It's sharing of that sensitive information with the SAA could have led to the accusation that one shareholder could be in a position to manipulate a decision of Aer Lingus management.
The new disclosures of the past week show the utter powerlessness of government in influencing Aer Lingus's direction once it allowed the company go private. The Government really over-exaggerated its influence upon the company. In reality with a 25% shareholding (and its laughable 'golden share') it has little to none.
It also shows how high emotion is still running in the Mid West over this. Over 4,000 appeared in Limerick on Saturday to protest against the loss of the Heathrow slots.
I think the tide is turning against local Fianna Fail TDs and Senators. Limerick West TD John Cregan was booed when he tried to speak on the stage. Locals are beginning to suspect that the FFers are all playing the role of Tadhg an Dá Thaobh.