11th August 2007
Joint Statement issued by the Bishops of the Mid-West Region in relation to the closure of services by Aer Lingus on the Shannon–Heathrow route.
We warmly welcome the expansion of activity at Belfast International Airport made possible by the new situation of peace on our island. However, we share the dismay that the decision by Aer Lingus to abandon the Shannon-Heathrow flights has caused among its staff, its passengers, and the people of the area. It is a serious blow to tourist and business enterprises in the region. While it has to be noted that Aer Lingus has served the Shannon region well over the years this decision now closes a profitable route which provided the west of Ireland with an incoming and outgoing link with a major European hub.
We issue this statement out of our concern for all of those whose lives will be adversely affected by this decision. In particular we feel that it is our duty to point out that public policy and the behaviour of private companies must have regard to moral obligations beyond merely commercial and short term considerations. We welcome and strongly support the initiatives in recent days of local politicians, organisations and business interests in the region to address the decision to close off this major arterial air-route from the mid-west region.
We offer the following points for consideration:
- This decision has implications beyond Aer Lingus and beyond this very unwelcome announcement about Shannon.
- We are particularly concerned that the Aer Lingus statement that this was a pragmatic commercial decision appears to be offered as a complete and adequate justification.
- The ultimate purpose of the economy and of economic activity is not just to create profit; it is to make life more human for people. There is no area of life, including the economy in which social responsibility may be ignored. Nor do we accept that shareholders should be presumed to have no interest other than the generation of profit at whatever cost to their fellow human beings. That is especially true when the shareholder in the company is the Government, which exists to foster the common good of its citizens.
- We cannot accept that managers and boards of companies may regard considerations such as the well being of their staff, their obligations to their customers and their impact on the community and the wider world as matters of little relevance in serious decision making
- For many years public policy has been concerned about unbalanced development in Ireland. The over-concentration of population and economic activity in the Greater Dublin area is a huge problem not only for the rest of the country but for Dublin itself.
The following serious questions need to be addressed at this time:
- What led to the situation in which a company in which the Government is a major shareholder took a decision which will have an outcome entirely contrary to the Government’s already inadequate efforts towards a spatial strategy and regional planning?
- With the development of an open skies policy is there anything to prevent Cork or even Dublin losing Aer Lingus slots at Heathrow in order to make way for more commercially rewarding flights to that airport from destinations outside Ireland?
- Why was it was thought necessary to remove all Heathrow flights from Shannon and the Western sea-board of Ireland while making no adjustments elsewhere?
- How can the decision of the past week give confidence to the people of the nation that there is a serious will to address the real imbalance in our country where an ever growing proportion of investment and development will be sucked into the Dublin-Belfast area to the detriment of the island as a whole?
A decision such as this recalls the words of the late John Healy that we are increasingly becoming citizens of an economy rather than of a nation.
We appeal to the Government, the other shareholders and the Board of Aer Lingus to take urgent steps to reverse this very damaging decision to abandon the Shannon-Heathrow flights.
+ Michael Mayes, Church of Ireland Bishop of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert
+ Donal Murray, Catholic Bishop of Limerick
+ Willie Walsh, Catholic Bishop of Killaloe.