Category Archives: News

INCREASE IN 2014 PASSENGER NUMBERS FOR IRELAND WEST AIRPORT.

Figures show 2.7% growth on 2012.

Sligo News File Online

Managing Director, Joe Gilmore has hailed 2014 as a record year for Knock Airport, where passenger numbers increased to 703,324, up on 2013, and 2.7% higher than for 2012.

Gilmore said the airport had “record numbers on all of our services…highlighting its importance as the main international gateway for the west and north west of Ireland and indeed the Wild Allantic Way.”

The announcement follows reports that heavily indepted Sligo County Council is one of a number of local authorities expected to consider a bailout for the airport early this year. Sligo is reputed to have a a total debt load in the region of €150 million. More than €120 million of this is understood to be in the form of long-term debt, and a cumulative revenue debt of about €20 million. The authority is also believed to be under government pressure to make provision for a €10 million budget surplus in order to stabilize its revenues over the coming 10 years.

This does not include the further millions of euro the authority also has to find to meet the cost of the legal proceedings taken against it in the High and Supreme Courts by owners of the Lisadell Estate concerning rights of way through the estate.

Where Sligo is to find what is thought will be around two million euro (maybe more) as an investment towards paying off €7.3 million of the €9 million legacy debt – Western Development Commission is paying  €1.7 million – without further inflating its existing massive debt stock isn’t clear, but it’s imagined the pulling together of such a vast sum could not be achieved without placing further major financial demands or service cutbacks on the people of the county. It is assumed the cost of servicing the airport debt will drive the
proposed figure way beyond the current multi-million euro sum.

There is also concern about the expertise a local authority as shareholder would be able to bring to the operation or management of the airport, and whether the composition of the board of trust is set to be changed to allow for ownership to include the local authorities.

The airport, according to accounts filed with the Companies Registration Office by its operating company, Connaught Airport Development Company Limited, lost €659,000 before tax in 2013.

Sligo council CEO Ciaran Hayes, in the wake of a presentation to the county council by airport managing director Gilmore, said that the strategy outlined by the airport board was “hugely significant in terms of the council’s new role in economic development.”

The government, it’s understood, has promised to maintain an exchequer subsidy towards the airport for a time but this is to be phased out as it achieves viability. However, it is considered that breaking even, even with passenger numbers double those of 2014, will prove difficult. Government provision of “an enormous
package of incentives for Shannon”, it is feared will hamper its further progress and development.

A study Group, chaired by Fine Gael TD, John O’Mahony reported
in December 2013 that “Fundamentally, the work of the Group has shown that under the existing policy approach involving the cessation of Exchequer supports for regional airports, a range of legacy issues will mean that the Airport,  despite its efforts to meet the target of being self-financing by end 2014, would be forced to close within the next two years.”

In evidence to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications in December 2012, the then airport chairman, Liam Scollan, according to the Oireachtas report, said the “government’s actions in aviation fly in the face of anything to do with market competition. It is unfair, anti-competitive and potentially illegal. It rewards airports which, even with 1.6 million to 2.2 million passengers, are losing €8 million to €10 million annually and punishes an airport like Knock that is almost breaking even on half those passenger numbers.”

The report also quotes Mr. Scollan as saying “…we know that there are significant troop movements -200,000 to 300,000 – through Shannon, which bring enormous levels of income.”

Later, Mr. Scollan reportedly said in an interview with the Mayo News that the government had taken a decision “to write off €100 million of debt in Shannon…. There will also be a transfer of income from Shannon Estates (a part of the larger Shannon Deverlopment Organisation) into Shannon Airport and what this means is that Shannon Development’s land banks and property expertise will be merged with Shannon Airport with a view to developing an international aviation services facility in the region. It is a transfer of considerable assets over to Shannon Airport which boosts them with an annual subvention or income to assist them to attract new
routes and new businesses in aviation -related areas, maintenance etc. It is a massive financial cash injection.

“The airport is essentially getting its debt written off while also getting another significant financial boost.”

It is not known when exactly the proposed local authority investment programme for the Ireland West Airport is to be considered by councillors in Sligo. Hayes has said, “it will be advanced subject to a Due Diligence report currently being compiled.”
 

Dublin MEP Lynn Boylan calls on fellow Irish MEPs to vote against GMO report.

‘… final text …leaves legal loopholes available for biotech companies to exploit to take countries to court.’

Sligo News File Online.

Lynn Boylan, MEP, Sinn Fein.
Lynn Boylan, MEP, Sinn Fein.

Dublin MEP Lynn Boylan has today called on her fellow Irish MEPs to reject next Tuesday’s vote on GMOs.

The legislation was drafted to break the deadlock between pro and anti GM countries and to create a mechanism that would legally allow countries to opt out of cultivating GM crops.

In November the EU Environment committee produced a very strong proposal.  The EU Parliament’s position removed the controversial ‘Phase 1’ proposal put forward by the EU Council, where Ireland is represented by the Government.   This Phase 1 system obliged democratically elected governments to seek permission from a biotech company to be removed from the scope of their authorisation application.  The Parliament’s position also broadened the scope of the grounds a country could use to justify their wish to opt out to include environmental and socio-economic reasons.

“When the EU Council and the Parliament concluded their negotiations before Christmas, the final text was drastically diluted and in my opinion leaves legal loopholes available for biotech companies to exploit to take countries to court.

The controversial Phase 1 albeit improved has been reinserted and the Parliament’s preferred Environmental legal basis for the legislation was changed to EU Internal Market law which undermines using environmental grounds for banning GM crops.” said the Sinn Féin MEP

“I am calling on my fellow MEPs and particularly my Irish colleagues to vote against this report on Tuesday. It is a flawed report and does not offer countries watertight legislation to ban GM crops on their soil, it will instead, in my opinion open the flood gates to GM crops despite strong public resistance to them” added Ms Boylan.”

Citizens Movement Mayo ‘holding councillors to account.’

‘Some elected representatives…caught off-guard by people’s
awakening in Irish politics in last year.’

Protest at Mayo County Council Offices on Monday.

Council meeting with Irish Water representatives.

Sligo News File Online.

National Citizens Movement. L-R: Aiden Dwyer (Mayo), Jamie Rooney (Mayo), Alan Lawes (NCM national group), Elizabeth Hourihane (NCM National), Michael Downey (Mayo)
National Citizens Movement.
L-R: Aiden Dwyer (Mayo), Jamie Rooney (Mayo), Alan Lawes (NCM national group), Elizabeth Hourihane (NCM National), Michael Downey (Mayo)

The National Citizens Movement is organising a day-long protest at the offices of Mayo County Council on Monday with the aim of holding the county’s local local public representatives to account, the Mayo branch of the organisation has said.

Outlining the proposed action, the organisation said in a statement members now intend to start scrutinizing councilor’s representation of local interests in the council chambers in Mayo.

The statement said the planned move “…is welcomed by many of the Mayo county councillors that we have spoken to already, and startled some others who appear to have been caught off-guard by people’s awakening in Irish politics in the last year.”

Monday’s protest is being held to coincide with the expected attendance of representatives of Irish Water at the council’s regular monthly meeting.

“Irish Water are reportedly sending representatives to ‘advise’ our county councillors on the company that morning and we intend to make our presence known to them also.”

The organisation said discussion of a notice of motion on water charges and the abolition of Irish Water during two previous meetings of the council had been “hampered by party bickering and adjourned

“Next Monday’s meeting sees the motion, proposed by Cllr. Gerry Murray (SF) being revisited once again and, hopefully, voted upon by our public representatives.”

Calling for a strong presence of people and their families at the demonstration, the Movement said that, as always, “the protest is set to be a peaceful one.

“We want our Councillors to show solidarity with the other county councils around the country that have already discussed and passed similar motions.

“We intend also to publicise those representatives who either vote against the motion,  or choose to abstain from the vote (something which we view as equivocal to voting  against it), so that their constituents are made aware of their position and can be
informed to decide whether their Councillors truly represent their views.”

P.R.O. National Citizens Movement (Mayo) is Jamie Rooney (083-3046869)

Fianna Fail Leader, Michael Martin meets Sligo ‘young scientists’ at RDS.

MICHAEL MARTIN MEETS SLIGO ‘YOUNG SCIENTISTS.’

Fianna Fail Leader Michael Martin pictured with Sean Casey, Michael Gilmartin, and Michael Kerins from Summerhill College, Sligo, with their project titled 'To adapt a car steering wheel that senses driver distraction, alerts the driver, and thus reduces accidents and fatalities' at the BT Young Scients Exhibition at the RDS. Picture courtesy Conor McCabe Photography.
Fianna Fail Leader Michael Martin pictured with Sean Casey, Michael Gilmartin, and Michael Kerins from Summerhill College, Sligo, with their project titled ‘To adapt a car steering wheel that senses driver distraction, alerts the driver, and thus reduces accidents and fatalities’ at the BT Young Scients Exhibition at the RDS.
Picture courtesy Conor McCabe Photography.

EU-US trade deal threatens looser pesticide regulation- Lynn Boylan MEP

‘…pesticide regulations in the EU would be weakened…’

Sligo News File Online.

Sinn Féin Dublin MEP Lynn Boylan has commented on the latest report from the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) illustrating how the EU-US trade deal threatens to lower standards of protection from toxic pesticides.

Speaking today Ms Boylan said:

“This report from CIEL outlines how pesticide regulations in the EU would be weakened under the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) Agreement and its findings should alarm anyone worried about the toxic and harmful effect of pesticides on food production and on the environment.

According to the report pesticide lobby groups both in Europe and the US are suggesting that, in order to increase trade, TTIP should adopt lower standards of protection from toxic pesticides, like the standards currently in place in the US.

The problem is that this approach would lead to a reintroduction of these banned pesticides in the EU and would also permit the use of carcinogens, increase the amount of toxic pesticides allowed in food sold to consumers and would side track efforts to regulate endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

To emphasise the risk posed by acquiescing to the lobby group demands, the study includes a list of 82 toxic pesticides, which are banned in the EU but allowed for use in the US.

This CIEL study highlights how TTIP needs to viewed as a whole and not just as a mechanism for enhancing trade between Europe and the US. The consequences of implementing this agreement as it stands are far reaching. Attention must be paid to the detail now in order to avoid the potential detrimental impacts on the environment and on EU consumer health.”

Sligo County Council reportedly in local authority deal to take over debt of Ireland West Airport.

Councillors to consider multi-million euro investment plan for airport.

‘Government rejected airport plans to create thousands of jobs in tourism and other sectors.’

‘…no funding will be made available after 2014.’


Sligo News File Online.

Sligo County Council SignMembers of Sligo County Council are expected to consider a multi-million euro bailout of Ireland West airport early this year.

Sligo is understood to be one of seven local authorities proposing to assume responsibility for debts of the airport, believed to be in the region of €9 million. 

The move was apparently discussed at a recent meeting of Mayo County Council where, according to the Mayo News, council CEO and chairperson of the airport trust, Peter Hynes informed members that the Mayo authority proposed to borrow €7.3 million to pay off “a large portion” of the €9 million debt in return for a 17.5% stake in the airport which other councils – Sligo, Donegal, Leitrim, Roscommon and Galway City and County Council – will then help Mayo to repay over a 30-year term in exchange for shares in its 17.5% stake. The remainder of the debt, €1.7 million,  will be repaid by the Western Development Commission.

Equity, the meeting reportedly heard, will be divided among each local authority based on the benefits accruing to each from the airport in terms of passenger numbers and ‘economic spin off.’

Sligo’s contribution could be upwards of two million euro.

It is thought that Sligo’s total contribution in the lifetime of the plan could be upwards of two million euro – perhaps more. A concern, however, is whether the council can afford to take on the responsibility. The authority itself already has long-term debt of €120 million, cumulative revenue debt of just under €20 million, and also has to make provision for a €10 million budget surplus in order to stabilise its finances over the next ten years. Additionally, it has to find millions of euro to meet the costs of legal proceedings following the High Court/ Supreme Court case taken against the council by owners of the Lissadell estate concerning rights of way through the estate.

Many will find it hard to understand why responsibility for debts of the airport should be dropped on councils and by extension local families or communities who likely will ultimately be left to pick up the  bill for the debts in the form of increased local council charges or service cutbacks. The airport, a private development,  is owned by a statutory trust, and run on behalf of the trust by a private limited company, Connaught Airport Development Company. It has received €21 million in “direct subvention” state aid since 1993.

Latest 2013 accounts for the Company indicate it is heavily dependent on bank borrowings. A large part of €8.9 million is payable within five years with €2.5 or so payable in 5 years or longer. The company lost €659,000 before tax in 2013, excluding taxpayer grant aid of €1,182,262. Airport users, over 12, are
charged a development fee of €10 each, a practice in place for the last twenty years.

Employee numbers in 2013 were 107, up five on 2012. Wages and salaries for 2013 were €4,061,998.

Airport would need 1.5 million users to be viable.

It has been stated that to make it viable the airport would require a throughput of 1.5 million users. Company accounts show that passenger numbers for 2013 were 665,400, 3% less than recorded in 2012.

An Oireachtas record states that, in December 2012, Airport Managing Director, Joe Gilmore told the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications that the airport was funded until 2014 “under the core operational programme” and that the company had a commitment from government to that effect.

‘…facing stormy waters.’

“However, after that, the Department has advised us that there will be limited, and possibly no, funding for regional airports. Depending on the economy and so forth, we will potentially be in a treacherous position.  We are carrying €10 million of debt on our balance sheet as a result of infrastructure projects undertaken with the government over the past number of years.

“We are facing stormy waters.”

Airport Chairman, (now resigned) Liam Scollen spoke of government dismissal of plans for the growth of passenger numbers and jobs at Knock.

“For 18 months, we have met the government and presented it with plans to create thousands of jobs in tourism and other sectors. All of these plans were rejected on the basis that Ireland West Airport Knock is a private company. That is not true; we are a community trust. Our vision for the future is one of 1 million passengers per annum and the creation of 500 jobs without a grant or subvention mentality.”

‘…enormous package of incentives for Shannon.’

Referring to a government announced “…enormous package of incentives” for Shannon, he said: “We strongly disagree with the government’s approach to this issue of Shannon. From the start, we stated that the government, in proposing what it did for Shannon, should first have obeyed the recommendations of the Booz and Company report.” This stated, he said, that “no such package should be undertaken without understanding the competitive impact on Knock and other airports. What has the government done? It has gone ahead with the package, and that is extremely unfortunate. It is unfair. It is wasteful of public resources because it does not look at competitive airports, such as Knock, to come up with solutions. It is also a parochial approach…that is very divisive.”

The government package for Shannon is understood to include a decision to write off €100 million of its debt.

Deputy Michelle Mulherin, FG, asked, “what the department’s view of Knock was. The department has told us repeatedly that the minister’s clear view is that the department is engaging with the state airports and it sees Knock as a private entity – the department’s own word, not ours – and, therefore, there will be no funding for Knock after 2014, unless additional funds were made available from the Exchequer. A question was asked about funding after 2014. The default position is that no funding will be made available after 2014.”

In an interview subsequently with the Mayo News in January 2013, Mr. Scollan reportedly said “…that it had now been decided that the state airports need to be protected, regardless of if that stifles the development of regional airports, or even closes them.

“IWAK, being the biggest regional airport, is seen as the biggest threat. We have asserted to government that this policy shift in relation to Shannon Airport is hugely damaging to IWAK and potentially illegal.”
 
A report released in December 2013 by a group under the chair of Fine Gael TD, John O’Mahony graphically highlights the critical position surrounding the future of the airport. It states “Fundamentally, the work of the Group has shown that under the existing policy approach involving the cessation of exchequer supports for regional airports, a range of legacy financial issues will mean that the airport, despite its efforts to meet the target of being self-financing by the end of 2014, would be forced to close within the next two years.”

In a “special end of year report,” Sligo County Council Chief Executive, Ciaran Hayes has described the proposed local authority plan for the airport as “an innovative collaboration between the Northwest counties and Ireland West Airport (IWAK)…” It will be advanced subject to a Due Diligence report currently being compiled,” he said.

Knock Airport 2Shareholders/members of the “Horan International Airport Trust” are listed as:

Peter Hynes, Trustee, Chairperson, John Dillon, Trustee, Fr. Richard Gibbons, Trustee, Martin Gillen, Trustee, Joseph Kennedy (UK), Trustee, Brian McEniff, Trustee and Archbishop Michael Neary, Trustee. Secretary: Brendan Flanagan.  

Directors of the airport company listed in the 2013 annual return of the Connaught Airport Development Company Limited to the Companies Registration Office on 8 October 2014 are:

Patrick James Kennedy, Board Chairperson, Bowdon, Cheshire, England, Michael Neary, Tuam, Co. Galway, Brian McEniff, Hollyrood Hotel, Bundoran, Co. Donegal, Arthur French, Straffen, Co. Kildare, Joseph Paul Gilmore, Company Managing Director, Claremorris, Co, Mayo, Timothy Martin McDermott, Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, England, Fergal James Broder, Sea Road, Sligo, Peter Hynes, Foxford, Co. Mayo, Martin Gillen, Deerpark East, Westport, Co. Mayo, Richard John Gibbons, The Presbytery, Knock, Co. Mayo, John Molloy, Gosforth, England, Patrick Gallagher, Breaghwy, Castlebar, Mayo and Brian O’Dwyer, Central Park West, New York, USA.

 
 

Government policies have decimated Health Services – Ó Caoláin.

‘…563 patients are being cared for on trolleys across the country.’

Sligo News File Online.

Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said that hospital overcrowding, A&E shutdowns and record numbers on trolleys show that “Fine Gael and Labour policies have decimated the Health Services”.

Caoimghlin O'Caolain, TD, Sinn Fein.
Caoimghlin O’Caolain, TD, Sinn Fein.

Deputy Ó Caoláin reacted strongly to the highly concerning figures released by the INMO (Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation) that show that 563 patients are being cared for on trolleys across the country.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“There are 50 patients waiting for admission at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, 39 in St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny and 33 in Mullingar. These record high numbers follow a period in which we traditionally see lower numbers in hospitals for elective procedures. This does not bode well for 2015. There can be no doubt but that Fine Gael and Labour policies have decimated the Health Services.

“The measures announced in the Budget to ease pressure on A&Es have had little effect.  I again call for additional funding for step down beds and extra nursing home places. The Health Minister needs to act now to ensure that these figures don’t increase further with the expected increased demand on our Health Services.

 “I have been contacted by families dependent on the Midlands Regional Hospital in Mullingar where for three days in a row the HSE have asked patients not to attend A&E. Today sees 23 patients on trolleys and 10 extra patients on wards that were already at capacity levels. Patients have been told to not attend unless they are an ‘absolute emergency’. I ask how patients are supposed to be able to diagnose themselves and determine if they are an ‘absolute emergency’. Issues of safety of care, privacy, and dignity for those on trolleys have been raised with me as well as claims of poor adherence to normal washing standards due to an acute shortage of staff.

“The INMO has also called for the cancellation of all scheduled elective operations for two weeks. While this might grant a reprieve to the numbers on trolleys and to overstretched staff it will mean that those waiting for non-emergency but nonetheless essential surgery will have the date of their procedures pushed back. This will lead to a delay for those who, in many cases, have been waiting for months or years for procedures, many in pain and whose lives are in suspense.

“There is now also the prospect of industrial action. If this is to occur it will be due to nursing staff being forced into this course. This is not about personal gain. It is because nurses working on the frontline know the dangers that low staff numbers cause. They know that people cannot be appropriately treated with reduced levels of staff, with thousands of beds closed and with increasing population and patient demands. The Minister for Health must act urgently to address this developing crisis” concluded Deputy Ó Caoláin.

ICSA CONDEMNS SUGGESTED CUT TO FARM PAYMENTS.

‘Farm accidents occur not as a result of obviously dangerous facilities but due to all kinds of human error and animal unpredictability.’

Sligo News File Online.

ICSA president Patrick Kent has condemned the suggestion that EU farm payments might be cut where farms don’t meet farm safety standards. “The reality is that many farm accidents occur not as a result of obviously dangerous facilities but due to all kinds of human error and animal unpredictability.  The reality too is that accidents on farms happen because the returns from farming simply do not allow for more than one person to work on most farms and farmers are under immense pressure to get work done.”

“In relation to deficiencies in facilities or equipment, taking money off farmers makes it even harder for them to fund upgrades so it just doesn’t make sense.  Farmers are under enough pressure to increase production even in the face of low market returns, and they do not need any further regulations imposed on them. We believe that Commissioner Hogan should not go down this route and ICSA will oppose any such moves.”