Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach agus le baill an choiste. Is mór an onóir dom a bheith roghnaithe ag an Aire Iompair agus Comhshaoil, Aeráide agus Cumarsáide, an Teachta Eamon Ryan, mar chathaoirleach ainmnithe de chuid Ghrúpa na Sionainne. Is mór an phribhléid a bheith i láthair inniu mar chuid den phróiseas ainmniúcháin seo mar gheall ar an ról fíorthábhachtach atá i gceist.
Let me assure the committee that working with the CEO, Ms Mary Considine, and board on the recovery of Shannon Airport after the devastation caused by the pandemic will be my primary and main focus. It is a huge but exciting challenge at what is probably the most difficult period the global aviation industry has ever faced.
I would like to start by outlining my professional qualifications and setting out my reasons for applying for the role of chair of the Shannon Group. I am a seasoned entrepreneur and hold a strong track record at senior level in the private and public sectors. Perhaps, and possible the most valuable asset that I can bring to the role, is my extensive first-hand experience in aviation and a deep insight into all aspects of the sector.
Following an early career in Galway that involved accountancy, teaching and law, I remortgaged my house and, with a partner, bought Aer Arann in 1994. Over the following 26 years I held the roles of chief executive, chairman and accountable manager, which was probably the most important, of the airline. The role of accountable manager is particularly important in the aviation industry because one is personally responsible and accountable for all of the safety and operation of that airline from the perspectives of staff and passengers. There are two parts to the industry. One is the commercial side and the other is the regulatory side. It is fundamentally important to have a good knowledge of both sides because they interact and overlap.
I am a former winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and I represented Ireland in the world final of the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year programme. I have also been a judge for the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year programme and have chaired the EY entrepreneur of the year programme for a number of years.
I am an alumnus of Harvard University and of National University Ireland Galway, NUIG, where I was awarded business alumnus of the year. I am currently adjunct professor of entrepreneurship and business in NUIG. I also hold professional qualifications from the Law Society of Ireland. One of my proudest and most privileged times was when I worked with many members and other colleagues as a Senator in Seanad Éireann from 2016 to 2020. My previous board experience has included directorships with Fáilte Ireland, RTÉ and Bord Iascaigh Mhara.
I would now like to share some Shannon Group details and observations with the committee. Shannon Group’s mandate from the Government on its establishment in 2014 is "to promote and facilitate air transport and aviation services in and around Shannon Airport and to optimise the return on its land and property”. At the core of the group is Shannon Airport, which provides essential air connectivity that supports businesses and the livelihoods of thousands of people in the west of Ireland. Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, 1.7 million passengers passed through Shannon Airport. It is important to remember that in early 2020, Shannon Airport was set for a year of growth, with new routes and having secured locally-based aircraft. The revitalisation of Shannon Airport is important not only for the staff who work there and who are very committed to the airport but also for the people of the region who rely on Shannon’s air connectivity. It is a vital economic engine for the Shannon region and the wider west of Ireland economy. I believe that the Shannon Group is well positioned to play a key role in the region’s recovery. I am committed to working with the CEO and the board to ensure that happens. I will bring drive, passion and energy to the role.
Over the years the Shannon Group has contributed significantly to economic activity and growth in the mid-west region. Prior to the pandemic, the overall economic impact of these activities was estimated at €3.6 billion gross value added, supporting over 46,500 jobs across the region it serves and contributing €1.15 billion in tax revenue.
The group’s property activity comprises a portfolio of 3.1 million sq. ft of property, in addition to significant land banks. With over 300 companies and growing, the Shannon campus that incorporates the airport and the Shannon free zone is one of Ireland’s most prominent multi-sectoral business parks. Since establishment, the group has invested over €135 million across its campus, successfully delivering innovative and competitive property solutions to indigenous and foreign clients of all sizes in the mid-west. The campus hosts the largest cluster of aviation companies in Ireland. Supported by the Shannon Group, it has grown to over 80 companies today. Shannon is also home to Ireland’s first test bed for future mobility, with a focus on innovation and development in driverless and autonomous transport technology.
Moving to heritage activities, I endorse the discussions taking place regarding the transfer of Shannon heritage sites to local authorities. These arrangements will facilitate the Shannon Group to focus on the recovery of its airport business, building back international passengers as soon as possible, while continuing to develop its associated property activities and the aviation cluster as the country emerges from the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The recovery of the aviation sector to pre-pandemic levels is likely to take many years. It is certain that airports such as Shannon will face much increased competition for new routes during this time. Some European aviation committees and structures believe it will between 2026 and 2027 before we get back to pre-pandemic levels. However, I have set an ambitious target to recover Shannon's air traffic to 2019 levels by 2024 or in other words, within three years. As the European aviation committees and structures believe it will take until 2026 or 2027 before we get back to pre-pandemic levels, it is a pretty ambitious target but we will give it our best shot. In meetings that I have with the CEO, Ms Mary Considine, we are 100% committed to aiming for this objective.
I am confident that this focus on recovery and growth, accompanied by the provision of appropriate supports for the Irish aviation, business and tourism sectors, will help ensure the organisation’s emergence, and that of the mid-west region, from the effects of Covid-19. The certainty of such an intervention, for example through the permanent inclusion of Shannon in the State's regional airports programme, will help drive future development and growth thus bringing certainty and predictability in uncertain times.
To conclude, I am confident that the actions now being taken by management will further enhance Shannon Group's performance and its contribution to all key stakeholders in the mid-west region and beyond. As chairperson, it will be my privilege, and that of the board, to support the Shannon Group's management in delivering future growth and development for the group, and the mid-west region, during the coming years. I am confident that with the right supports and hard work Shannon will recover and build back stronger.
Gabhaim buíochas le baill an choiste as an deis a bheith os a gcomhair inniu. Tá mé buíoch as an deis agus an dúshlán atá agam ceantar na Sionainne a chur ar ais ar an mapa san áit ba chóir dó a bheith agus san áit a raibh sé ag dul siar go dtí na 1940idí.