COMMENT: Political System Is Letting Down Itself, And Us

This week, Gavin argues that the Oireachtas needs to make more changes if it’s to govern effectively in the times of COVID-19.

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Whether their policy is correct or not, the government’s approach to aviation has the potential to wreak even further havoc on our county’s economy.

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Across the industry, there is universal agreement that a significant change is needed, and soon, but in health circles there’s concern that such a change could be damaging. Both arguments deserve consideration, but from a purely business sense this is one of our most important industries, and it is on its knees. Considering how international travel feeds into tourism and business, not to mention the huge industry that has spun-off from Shannon Airport, it needs to be near the top of the political agenda, and to be fair our local TDs and Senators have been pressing the case.

This week, all the important stakeholders gathered together for one meeting on the matter – the Senior and Junior Transport Ministers, Ryanair, Aer Lingus, Shannon Group and daa. There was an opportunity for politicians to question them on their plans, and for those groups to put forward their cases as well. With 40,000 people working in aviation in Ireland, thousands of them in this region, it should have been one of the most important political meetings for Clare in recent times.

Instead, it was an utter sham.

COVID-19 means committee hearings can only last for two hours, even though social distancing is in place. Clare County Council meetings in Glór have far exceeded this time limit, by the way. But Leinster House guidelines and rules need to be followed. Each witness gets an opening statement, and there are opportunities for questions from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin, Labour, the Greens, and Independent groups. In other words, everything is rushed and crammed into a tiny space of time.

The Ministers can’t appear alongside the airlines, because of capacity, so after Eamon Ryan dropped the bombshell that more decisions on testing have to be made AFTER the adoption of the EU’s Traffic Light system, meaning it won’t open up the industry soon, airlines expressed their concern without him being present to respond to their criticisms. This move will effectively lead Ryanair to close its Shannon base, they say, and yet they don’t get to make that point directly to Minister Ryan.

This isn’t the first time it’s happened. The COVID committee, most notably, dealt with this issue throughout its tenure, and other Committees will too. It makes the whole exercise close to pointless.

I get that Oireachtas Committee meetings aren’t a sexy topic for a rant, and that I am one of the few onlookers who will have been annoyed, given that that only a relatively small number of people will have watched Wednesday’s meeting. But it matters to everyone because the issues matter. If they’re not robustly debated and discussed, then it is all of us who lose out. There was no opportunity for the Clare politicians present to question Ryanair on their future in Shannon, or for a proper scrutiny of the Ministers or Shannon Group on matters pertaining to them. It’s not good enough.

Our politicians have a lot on their plates right now, but if the political system doesn’t give itself the chance to do its job properly, then it’s letting us all down. Meetings can be held virtually, and broadcast, if that is what it takes. Solutions are at hand, and it’s very disappointing that they haven’t been implemented already.