The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath has said any possible decision by Ryanair to downgrade its presence in Cork must be avoided.
On Thursday, Ryanair Group Chief Executive Michael O'Leary said that it is “highly likely” that the company will close its winter base at Cork Airport.
In an interview with RTÉ News, the Ryanair Group chief said that while a final decision will not be made on the matter until the end of the month, it is highly likely the company will close its winter bases in both Cork and Shannon.
When contacted by the Echo, a spokesperson for Ryanair said they would not be making a statement on the matter but that Mr O’Leary had spoken to RTÉ and the contents of the article were “accurate”.
Speaking to the Echo, Minister McGrath said he had spoken directly with management at the airport in recent days about the challenges they are facing and was under “no illusions about the depth of the crisis at the airport.”
He also highlighted the importance of retaining the flights that Ryanair and others continue to operate there.
“This is an incredibly difficult situation for everyone. My thoughts are with the employees of the airlines and of the airport and all the support services that are based at the airport- many of them have been in touch directly and we are trying to find a way forward that protects public health but allows international travel at the same time,” he said.
Minister McGrath highlighted how the Government has now updated the green travel list for the first time in over a month and that it has also signalled that it is supportive of the efforts at EU level for a coordinated approach.
“The challenge is that the EU proposals have not yet been adopted but it is hoped that they will be adopted by the middle of October, but in the meantime we will continue to update our green list in a manner that is consistent with the emerging EU proposals, and hopefully as time goes by more and more countries can be added to the green list provided it is safe to do so.
“The other important change is the advice to the public that they can travel to countries on the green list without any restrictions whatsoever,” he said.
“We hope that this Government decision will give confidence to Ryanair and other airlines that we are moving to a point where international travel can be safely reopened in a coordinated manner in line with other EU member states. That is our objective," the Minister added.
Cork Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said the latest news was part of an overall “very worrying picture for Cork Airport that needs to be addressed.”
“It’s very worrying times for everyone involved in Ryanair- cabin crew, ground staff and their pilots that are based in Cork, and for their families,” he said.
Deputy Ó Laoghaire said that priority needs to be given to the safeguarding of jobs.
“The other key priority is the fact that Cork Airport is a crucial strategic asset for us as a region - we can't be serious about the growth and development of Cork without a viable international airport,” he said.
The Cork South Central TD said that the Government need to clarify their policy on aviation.
“It has to be taken seriously.
“The loss of either Ryanair or Aer Lingus would be a devastating blow for the region and obviously particular for the families and the workers.
“Every effort needs to be taken to avoid that,” he said.
Conor Healy, CEO of Cork Chamber said he was “very concerned” by the comments of Ryanair's Michael O'Leary.
“It is imperative that the Government engages directly with Ryanair and the wider aviation sector to agree a way forward which prevents such a negative decision for the Cork region being taken, while also meeting public health requirements. Crucially airport testing and financial supports recommended by the aviation task force need to be activated by Government before it is too late,” he said.
The latest news comes amid mounting concern over the future of Cork Airport.
Earlier this week, Cork Airport held a “crisis meeting” for Oireachtas members to discuss the impact that of the Covid-19 pandemic on its aviation business and the challenges being faced by the Airport.
Passenger numbers have plummeted at the airport in recent months and the Airport is forecasting a €23 Million loss in revenues by year-end.
Niall MacCarthy, Managing Director of Cork Airport said that “it is vital that the Government moves to reopen international travel safely and that the industry and Government collaborate on restoring passenger confidence in travel to address the current crisis in aviation, tourism and hospitality.”