Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for giving me permission to raise this issue on the Adjournment. I was alerted and somewhat concerned by a report in The Irish Times last Monday which stated that there was a danger to the customs pre-clearance, naturalisation and immigration facility at Shannon. It was stated that this threat arose due to an application by the Government to the United States authorities to extend the customs pre-clearance facility to Dublin Airport. It went on to say that rather than welcoming the proposal of the Irish Government, the US authorities were considering the whole issue of maintaining pre-clearance in Shannon and in Ireland and that there was a cost factor involved which may prompt them to make a negative decision.
I was concerned to read this report and many people in the area contacted me regarding the veracity or otherwise of it. The Minister will agree that the customs pre-clearance at Shannon has worked successfully for almost a decade. Indeed, the then Minister for Transport, Deputy J. Mitchell, the Department of Transport officials and the Aer Rianta management at Shannon had the foresight and the savvy to recognise that if this facility were introduced to Ireland it could be used to Ireland's advantage.
The facility was successfully located at Shannon and the figures that have operated to date have justified that service. In this respect there have been various discussions over the past one or two years to the effect that any diminution in the facility would not justify maintaining it. I am apprehensive that if the facility were to be divided, following its proposed introduction to Dublin, neither airport would benefit in the long run in so far as the US authorities might decide that the figures would not justify having the facility in both airports.
There is great concern in Shannon. The region has been threatened and has suffered sufficiently already, having its sole transatlantic status removed from it. To minimise the status of Shannon any further would be a serious course of action. This service should and could be used to far greater advantage in Shannon. For example, it should be used to operate Shannon as a hub for other airlines from different parts of Europe and should be promoted as part of the attractions of having Shannon as a hub airport.
I hope the Minister will be in a position to assure this House this evening and the people of County Clare and Shannon that this service is not under threat, that the pre-immigration, naturalisation and pre-clearance facility in Shannon will be maintained, not only in the short term but also in the long term. It was an excellent facility, implemented by people of foresight almost a decade ago. To hinder or minimise it would be a serious development.
Hopefully, I will not have to condemn in this House at any future date a situation which might develop because of the action the Government has taken. In this instance the action has emanated from the Government requesting the US Government to extend the facility to Dublin. In taking this course of action the Government is minimising and reducing the status of Shannon, because it is taking from Shannon Airport something that was unique to the airport, to Ireland and the rest of Europe.
I ask the Minister to give a firm assurance to the House this evening that what we have in Shannon will be maintained and that nothing will be done to further threaten, minimise or undermine this. Shannon is based in the west of Ireland and is the focus of regional development in the surrounding area. We have put up with sufficient threats and nonsense from the Government regarding Shannon Airport. Any further action which threatens Shannon would be unacceptable. I ask the Minister to give an assurance to this House that this will not happen and that, whatever else, the pre-clearance facility in Shannon will be guaranteed and that priority will be given to maintaining it at Shannon, whatever about extending it elsewhere.