Aer Lingus’ decision to withdraw its Heathrow service from Shannon in favour of Belfast has produced an interesting clash between high and low politics, the grand vision of the all-Ireland economy on the one hand, and the more parochial perspective that is the daily bread of Irish democracy on the other.
David McWilliams takes the former view:
you cannot have your cake and eat it. We can’t aim to have a
political say in the North without accepting that the logical next step
will be Southern investment in the North.
Put simply, we can’t seek to end partition politically and try to uphold partition economically.
the Belfast Agreement, which the vast majority of us voted for, we
claimed that every person born on this island was entitled to an Irish
passport and was, if they choose, an Irish citizen.
therefore, those politicians who are arguing that Aer Lingus is
abandoning the Irish citizens of Shannon, in favour of the Irish
citizens of Belfast are being partitionist.
The reason this is an
important point, and not a piece of smart arsey, is because over the
coming years, Southern businesses will move to Belfast.
This is what happens when opportunities arise and when commerce is unimpeded. (Irish Independent)
Paddy Murray takes the other side of the argument in the print edition of the Sunday World:
For years, our governments were forced to spend millions, billions probably, on security because of the North. They were the neighbours from hell. So why are we spending our money on their problems?
What are we going to fund next? The children’s hospital in Newry? An airport for Crossmaglen? A Bertie Bowl in Aughnacloy?
Look it, lads. Why don’t yiz all make a job of it down here first? Why not get this part of the country, this part of the island, right before ye go spending our money up there.
The irony of course is that Murray’s argument hits exactly on one of the key reasons the Republic has an interest in a stable, prosperous North.
That’s not to say that the Aer Lingus decision was politically influenced. Commercial imperatives are a quite sufficient explanation. The Shannon route may have been profitable, but Belfast would be more profitable. Aer Lingus did what private companies do in such circumstances and arguably legally obliged to do – put their shareholders interests first.
Even if Aer Lingus were still nationalised, it would be an arguable question which use of the Heathrow slots would best serve the Irish national interest. Indeed, the ambiguity of what exactly constitutes the national interest is what makes the whole episode so intriguing, although its probably not the aspect uppermost in the mind of Willie O’Dea at the moment.
I suspect that in the current competitive market, other routes and other airlines will provide a perfectly adequate solution for the majority of Shannon travellers. One can only hope a solution can be found for those business travellers who require a link to a hub airport.