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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.” 

Sinn Fein pledges to continue fight against water charges ‘until they are stopped.’

‘We have stopped water charges in the North and we are totally opposed to the Government introducing water charges here.’

Sligo News File Online.

Sinn Féin Senator David Cullinane has expressed his disappointment that the President has today signed the Water Services Bill into legislation, saying that Sinn Féin would continue to fight the ongoing fiasco that is Irish Water and domestic water charges, reiterating Sinn Féin’s commitment to campaigning against water charges until they are stopped.”

Senator Cullinane said:

“It was with regret today that I learned President Michael D. Higgins had signed the Water Services Bill into law. Sinn Féin had asked that the President refer the legislation to the Council of State as we had severe reservations as to its constitutionality. The President chose to continue with the legislation as it stood. Sinn Féin have campaigned long and hard against the water charges. We have stopped water charges in the North and we are totally opposed to the Government introducing water charges here.”

“Sinn Féin will continue to fight the introduction of domestic water charges and the fiasco that is Irish Water. The Government is not listening and I do not think they don’t understand quite how serious this situation is. Multiple mass mobilisations in the streets have shown that the Irish people do not accept these charges at a fundamental level and these mobilisations will continue in the New Year. Sinn Féin is committed to stopping this charge and to reversing this legislation in government.”

FSAI call for more action on Campylobacter.

‘…could be as many as 25,000 cases of campylobacteriosis annually in Ireland.’

‘Cross-contamination from raw poultry is how it manages to infect…’

Sligo News File Online.

Of all infectious diseases which must be notified to health authorities in Ireland, one of the most frequently reported is Campylobacter infection, surpassing influenza and some hospital acquired infections, states the Chief Executive of the Food Safety Authority, Alan Reilly, writing in FSAI News.

Professor Alan Reilly, CEO, Food Safety Authority of Ireland
Professor Alan Reilly,
CEO, Food Safety Authority of Ireland

Describing it as Ireland’s number one cause of foodborne illness, Professor Reilly states that “so far this year almost 2,500 cases have been identified, ten times more than those caused by Salmonella. Given that actual cases far exceed reported cases, we estimate that there could be as many as 25,000 cases of campylobacteriosis annually in Ireland. The number is steadily rising year after year.

“Campylobacterosis is a nasty infection, which typically lasts a week. Summer is the peak period, with children under four the group most affected. Sufferers develop diarrhoea or bloody diarrhoea, and often develop severe cramping and abdominal pain, coupled with fever, within two to five days after exposure to the organism. Nausea and vomiting are also common. Although complications are rare, infection is associated with reactive arthritis, Reiter’s syndrome or Haemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). Approximately one in 1,000 cases leads to a neurological disorder called Guillain-Barré  Syndrome.

“The organism does not grow in food, but food is the most common source, with poultry the primary reservoir. A very low dose is enough to cause illness. Even one drop of juice from raw chicken meat can contain enough Campylobacter to make a person ill. Results from the most recent FSAI survey of Campylobacter in retail chicken shows that about 50% of products harbour the bacteria. Cooking easily destroys it, but cross-contamination from raw poultry is how it manages to infect so many of us. It might be argued, therefore, that good hygiene practices in the home or the catering sector should be enough to provide protection. However, this alone has not proven enough, as evidenced by the increase in reported cases year-on-year. It is equally valid to argue that elimination of Campylobacter from poultry would be a far more successful strategy. Clearly consumer behaviour in the home cannot be the sole means of prevention.

“In 2011, the FSAI Scientific Committee issued its second report on Campylobacter: Recommendations for a Practical Control Programme for Campylobacter in the Poultry Production and Slaughter Chain. If we are to tackle Campylobacter infection effectively, then more action is required by poultry farmers,
slaughter plant operators and retailers, as well as consumers.

“The adoption by retailers of leak proof packaging on chickens was a welcome improvement. Current media campaigns to remind consumers not to wash poultry before cooking also helps to raise
awareness of the danger of cross-contamination. The industry, however, needs to do more.

“Flocks should be systematically tested for Campylobacter before they are presented for slaughter. These results need to be communicated back to producers. How can poultry producers improve the biosecurity needed to keep Campylobacter out of poultry houses unless they know the Campylobacter status of their flocks? Processors and retailers should come together to fund this testing programme as the burden cannot be borne by the producer alone. It is also time to incentivise change and for retailers to pay bonuses for Campylobacter-free flocks as they do elsewhere in Europe. This will drive improvement and reward those who are serious about keeping Campylobacter out of their flocks. Little will happen without some sort of financial incentive, and vital and immediate changes are necessary to combat Campylobacter infection.

“A significant research project, funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and headed by University College Dublin and Teagasc, is currently underway and focusing on the
practicalities of control options. Other challenges still remain to be tackled, in particular improving biosecurity on the farm. This is where Government could play a crucial role. Money needs to be found to fund an advisory service for poultry producers. This could, for instance, be tied into grant aid to help producers upgrade poultry housing which will strengthen biosecurity so that farmers can stay
in business and produce a safer product for consumers. It is also time to consider setting in national legislation, an appropriate and challenging process hygiene microbiological criterion at the end of
slaughter, as recommended in the 2011 FSAI report. This will set a target for the improvement of slaughter hygiene.

“There are many players on the pitch, all with a role to play in reducing Campylobacter infection. As 2015 approaches we need to focus on tangible action. The time for talking is over and the consumer deserves better.”

Oireachtas members lobby President Higgins not to sign into law the Water Services Bill.

‘Coalition used its majority in the Oireachtas to force Bill through against the clear wishes of  the people.’

Sligo News File Online.

Oireachtas Sinn Féin Whip Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has said that his party, along with the Technical Group and other Independents have today written to President Michael D Higgins to urge him not to
sign into law the Water Services Bill.

Speaking this afternoon Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“Having clarified with the Office of the President that a joint petition under Article 27 of the Constitution would be out of order as both Houses of the Oireachtas have now passed the bill,  Sinn Féin, the Technical Group and some other Independents are now asking that the President invokes Article 26 and exercises his powers within the Constitution.

“We have written to the President and asked him to do just that.

“The will of the people has been clearly illustrated on this issue with thousands demonstrating outside Leinster House on 10th December. However, the Fine Gael and Labour coalition used its majority in the Oireachtas to force this Bill through against the clear wishes of the people.

“We believe that every consideration must be given to every option within the democratic process which can potentially stop this legislation becoming law.”

“The Irish people should have the right to decide on an issue of such national importance through a referendum.”

Text of the letter to President Higgins:

Mícheál D. Ó hUiginn

Uachtarán na hÉireann

Áras An Uachtaráin

Páirc an Fhionnuisce

Baile Átha Cliath 8

 Máirt 23 Nollaig 2014

A Uachtaráin, a chara,

Under Article 26 of Bunreacht na hÉireann we request that you consider declining to sign and promulgate as a law the Water Services Bill 2014 on the ground that the Bill contains a proposal
of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained.

We make this request on the grounds that:

1. There is such a degree of widespread public opposition to the imposition of charges for water as proposed under Section 3(2) of the Bill that such a proposal should be put to the people by way
of referendum or by holding of a general election before such charges are introduced.

2. The proposed plebiscite on the ownership of Irish Water in section 2 of the Bill does not satisfy demands for a constitutional referendum to enshrine the public ownership of Irish Water into the Constitution.

3. The proposal in Section 3(3) of the Bill which will require households who are unable to drink the water in their taps due to contamination to pay 50% of their water charges is fundamentally unjust.

Sínithe ag:

Brian Stanley TD;

Gerry Adams TD;

Seanadór David Cullinane;

Seanadór Trevor Ó Clochartaigh;

Seanadór Kathryn Reilly;

Jonathan O’Brien TD;

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD;

Mary Lou McDonald TD;

Michael Colreavy TD;

Seán Crowe TD;

Pearse Doherty TD;

Dessie Ellis TD;

Martin Ferris TD;

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD;

Sandra McLellan TD;

Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD;

Peadar Toibín TD;

Róisín Shorthall TD;

Tommy Broughan TD;

Catherine Murphy TD;

Richard Boyd Barrett TD;

Ruth Coppinger TD;

Joan Collins TD;

Thomas Pringle TD;

Joe Highins TD;

Finian McGrath TD;

Mick Wallace TD;

Shane Ross TD;

Maureen O’Sullivan TD;

Paul Murphy TD;

Mattie McGrath TD;

Thomas Fleming TD;

Stephen Donnelly TD;

Clare Daly TD;

Seanadór Gerard Craughwell

Seamus Healy TD;

John Halligan TD;

Michael Fitzmaurice TD.
 

Sligo Hughes Bridge works cease for Christmas Holidays.

Two week break with effect from Friday 19th December.

Sligo News File Online.

Sligo County Council Sign

Sligo County Council has announced that works at Hughes Bridge have been  been discontinued for the Christmas holiday, commencing on Friday 19 December.

In a statement, the authority has said the temporary traffic management plan will continue to apply during the holiday period. “During this period also it is intended that footpaths on both side of the bridge will be available for use by pedestrians.

“From Monday 5th January, 2015 and for a duration of approximately three weeks, piling works will be ongoing on the north-west embankment (adjacent to Salmon Point
i.e. the old swimming pool) and these works are likely to give rise to periodic lane closures in the northbound carriageway of Hughes Bridge.  During these times traffic may be reduced to one-lane northbound.  Delays are to be expected particularly
during peak times.

“As always Sligo County Council and L&M Keatings will endeavour to minimise the effects of the works where possible and we regret any inconvenience which may be caused.”

‘Sligo to bid for 2016 All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil.’

2014 festival benefited local economy

The 2014 All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil is said to have generated €50 million in economic spin-offs for the local Sligo economy.

It’s estimated 350,000 visitors were in the town during the eight day festival.

Bartley Gavin Sligo County CouncilBartley Gavin of Sligo County Council is chairman of the organising committee.

Sligo, which is the venue for the 2015 fleadh, is reportedly planning to bid for the 2016 festival.