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Protection of Shannon Airport
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21 May 2003

To ask the Minister for Transport if Shannon Airport and its hinterland will be protected in discussions on an EU Open Skies Policy; and if he will use his veto in discussoins regarding proposed changes to the current bilateral agreement.

- Pat Breen.
For PRIORITY answer on Wednesday, 21st May, 2003.
Ref No:   13882/03

Answered by the Minister For Transport.
(Seamus Brennan) 



The next discussions of this topic will be at the Council of Transport Ministers on the fifth and sixth of June.  The present indications are that the Council may seek to finalize the mandate being sought by the European Commission, to negotiate an Open Aviation Area Agreement between the EU and the USA.

I am currently reflecting on the position that I should adopt at that Council on behalf of Ireland.  The main issues which I must take into account are the ruling of the European Court of Justice last November, the impact on Shannon airport and its hinterland, the impact on tourism of increased access to Ireland, the opportunities for Aer Lingus to increase its business on transatlantic routes, as well as Ireland's wider relationship with Europe.

The existing Government policy on Shannon airport has been in place in order to assist the development of that airport.  I am very much aware of the importance attached to transatlantic services at Shannon by business and tourism interests in the region.  This will play a very important part in my consideration of this issue, and the House can be assured of my long term support for Shannon airport. 

I have asked my Department to examine, with the assistance of the Office of the Attorney General, the basis on which the question of a negotiating mandate on this subject may be resolved at the Transport Council.  The advice is not finalized yet, but I understand that, because the mandate embraces both issues of Community competence and issues in which Member States retain their competence, it could be argued that the agreement of all Member States may be legally necessary.  However, this view may not be shared by the European Commission.

While it is important to clarify these issues, I have to point out that it is not realistic, in my view, to contemplate that any Member State would refuse to permit the other Member States of the Union to engage in multilateral negotiations with the United States on a matter which they wish to pursue on a multilateral basis.