Wednesday, 29 July 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I ask the Leader to convey a couple of points to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Members will be aware that in advance of the lockdown, a significant number of families and individuals bought airline tickets to take their annual holidays.Some have been unable to claim insurance because the flights went ahead. Many families and individuals have accepted the travel restrictions and stayed at home. They are not entitled to any refund. A fund should be established to give these people some reimbursement so they have some chance of having a holiday at home, which we want them to do. It could be relatively small, but it would at least indicate that we want to support people in having a holiday, considering the fact that they spent so much money in the first place.
I am very conscious that air connectivity is a vital part of our economic activity. It is under enormous pressure because of Covid-19 but we will get beyond the pandemic. It would be really dreadful if our entire connectivity infrastructure was lost during this period. I am really concerned that Aer Lingus could go through such a difficult period that it may not survive the crisis. That would be shocking and dreadful, not only for the employees but for the economy which the airline supports. At this point it is appropriate for the Government to engage with Aer Lingus and very seriously consider taking on shares in the company to protect its long-term viability. We did that with our pillar banks, taking on shares in AIB and Bank of Ireland. We did this for the benefit of the State. It was not about the shareholders or the institutions themselves. This was done to ensure that when we got past that crisis we would have banks that would enable the economy to continue.
I believe that air connectivity is equally important to the recovery of this State. We are a small and open economy. We depend so much on air travel for tourism, business travel and the transport of cargo. We produce a lot of goods here that are ultimately shipped out by air. We need an airline, and that will be especially true after Covid-19. I appeal to the Acting Leader to ask for a debate in the short term. Big decisions will have to be taken in a relatively short period of time. The Irish Air Line Pilots Association has expressed its considerable worry about the future viability of Aer Lingus. Other former flag carriers around Europe are now receiving support from their respective governments. It would not be in any way anti-competitive or against European law to provide state aid in this instance. It is essential that we address that matter before the summer break.