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Government was 'on the brink' of making decision on third terminal for Dublin Airport before election called

The DAA has said a third terminal is not needed at the moment at Dublin Airport.

Image: Shutterstock/Peter Krocka

THE GOVERNMENT WAS on the brink of making a decision about an independent third terminal at Dublin Airport when Leo Varadkar called a general election in February, according to Transport Minister Shane Ross.

In an interview with TheJournal.ie, Ross said the issue was going to go to Cabinet for decision, but now the matter will be decided by the next government. 

A government report in 2018 found that the privatisation of future airport terminal operators would benefit airlines and their passengers.

It concluded that an independently owned third terminal, not owned and operated by the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), the State-owned commercial company, would increase competition.

A third terminal should be in place by 2031 as more than 50 million passengers will be passing through the airport annually in the future, the report also said.

The DAA has said a third terminal is not needed at the moment at Dublin Airport. 

Ross said a third terminal is badly needed, and he believes it should be independent, and privately operate.

“We had a report which reflected that we had a little more work to do, but it also left the option open of a third terminal. I am very much in favour of an independent third terminal,” he said. 

When asked if the project will get over the line in the 33rd Dáil, he said he did not know the view of Fianna Fáil on the issue. 

“It depends on the next government and who is in favour of it, it would be harder to get it over the line with a different coalition,” he said. 

“My view is that it would introduce competition, which is very important,” he said, adding that DAA has a monopoly at the moment. 

“I just think DAA has had its way for a long time, it’s been the same monopoly since the foundation of the state and it has behaved like a state monopoly. It would be very good for the consumer, the passengers, for the airlines,” said Ross. 

He added: 

“There would be huge resistance I imagine. There would be huge resistance from Ibec and Ictu… but that sort of thing will have to be decided by the next minister.”

With a question mark hanging over the new runway at Heathrow in London, Ross said the opportunity is there for Dublin to become a hub for travel. 

Willie Walsh, the outgoing chief executive of Aer Lingus, said recently that Dublin Airport will benefit from the decision by the UK’s Court of Appeal to block the construction of a third runway at Heathrow.

The UK court has said the London runway can’t go ahead because doing so would conflict with government commitments on tackling climate change.

The independent third terminal at Dublin Airport is just one of the issues the minister has butted heads with others about in recent times, both inside Cabinet and out.

Ross, who lost his seat in the Dublin Rathdown constituency, has had a turbulent time as Minister for Sport, particularly in recent months with the FAI scandal.

He also came under pressure over funding of the Irish Greyhound Board after an RTÉ Investigates programme revealed poor treatment of dogs in the industry.

These are two issues he reflected on when he sat down with TheJournal.ie. 

Reflecting on the election result first, Ross speculated about what went wrong for his Fine Gael colleagues. 

“There was a huge frustration at the government’s apparent inability to act on the problem of housing. I think that was absolutely massive.

“It was coming up an awful lot. As a government, I think we did very, very well on all the massive things like employment and growth and all the other things.

“It seemed we were paralyzed over housing,” he said. 

“Housing is not just about the homeless, housing is also about middle-class people not being able to get houses.

“That was a massive failure on our part – on the part of government – and I think people looked around and said, ‘who’s going to sort it’. They had absolutely no confidence in Fianna Fáil sorting it. They didn’t see them as a viable option to solve it,” said Ross.

He said the public were frustrated with the pace in housing delivery, and saw Sinn Féin as the only option.

Voters said “‘here we go.. we want to protest’, said Ross. “I think a lot of people had to swallow very hard and vote Sinn Féin for that reason.”

Ross was in government with Fine Gael for four years, however. Did he not voice his concern about housing delivery with his ministerial colleagues around the Cabinet table?

“Finian [McGrath] and I were pretty frustrated a lot of the time about what was going on. And we felt that it was going to get better. We acknowledged that they were building as fast as they could, but it wasn’t fast enough. And I personally felt that it was never explained properly how bad the situation was and why it was so bad, and how it couldn’t be sorted in 24 hours,” he said. 

“Sinn Féin could not sort it in 24 hours either,” he points out.

“A lot of it was to do with the fact that there were so many people gainfully employed who weren’t in situations of poverty or disadvantage, who just couldn’t buy houses. And this was driving them mad and rightly so. Rents and houses were just beyond their reach. But it wasn’t explained to them properly the reasons why this happened, and the reasons why this would be sorted out and it will be solved,” he said. 

Were he and his Independent Alliance colleagues ignored when the raised concerns about housing?

“I don’t think we were brushed off. I think it was a frequent subject of discussion almost weekly at cabinet meetings,” he said, stating that Fine Gael underestimated how the public felt about the housing crisis.

“I think there was an insensitivity to how important it was. That’s one of the problems that we had, was that this was a government, it wasn’t exactly out of touch, but it had an outlook which was somewhat concentrated, to some extent, on its own vanguard, on its own supporters, rather than those who were not reaping the benefits.,” said Ross.

“I think they [Fine Gael] thought they could win it on Brexit. I think they thought they could win it on the economy – that is definitely not how elections are won.

“They didn’t realise what was the behind the big picture… a lot of people in a great deal of difficulty, who were looking at the generation before, saying, ‘hey, my parents have all got houses, why can’t I get one?’… I think there was a disconnect,” he said. 

Fine Gael were saying “we’ve got the economy right. Aren’t we brilliant. And we’ve got Brexit right. Aren’t we brilliant. This is a really good government,” said Ross, who said Fine Gael failed to acknowledge that “behind each house you went into were people living there that didn’t want to be living there”. 

Still unhappy with the greyhound industry

During his time in government, Ross often caused disquiet at Cabinet, one such time being last year when he called for resignations over the greyhound scandal after a Prime Time programme showed that the Irish greyhound industry is breeding 1,000% more puppies than it needs, leading to a cull of thousands of racing dogs every year.

“That was absolutely disgraceful,” he said, stating he fought with those around the cabinet table about it. 

“I wanted to change the board and I also wanted to see the funding cut. I wanted to see directors changed. That wasn’t agreed to at all. I was a minority of one in the cabinet and I was concerned about the commitment to change in what was cruel industry, what I called subsidised cruelty,”said Ross.

“That certainly raised the hackles of Fine Gael,” he said, stating that Agriculture Minister Michael Creed promised to make reforms and changes. 

“I am still not happy with the situation. I am still not happy that they’re getting so much money. I’m still not happy with the board selected. The greyhound industry appears to have very close-knit connections and too much political clout,” he said. 

FAI scandal

Another issue he is proud of is how he and his junior minister Fine Gael’s Brendan Griffin dealt with the FAI in the last year. 

“Me and Brenda Griffin insisted and we fought long and hard to get rid of the remaining two [board members] because we thought that was really important, and there was a struggle. It was a struggle for the last year to remove the old regime in its entirety and there was a big struggle for them to stay on by themselves, supported by many other people in the FAI. We’ve now got a situation where we’ve got, I think, a really excellent chairman. And it took months and months and months to get him into position and I still haven’t sorted, but I will sort out before I go, why it took so long. I’m very unhappy still with the delay [in his appointment] which I think is murky and mysterious,” he said.

“So I am proud of that, I am proud of what we did with the FAI, he said. 

Ross also annoyed many in the judiciary with his Judicial Appointments Bill, which has now lapsed with the fall of the government. 

With a new government soon to be formed, a new Attorney General might be on the cards too.

The AG offers advice to the government on any proposed legislation. However, some critics, particularly from the opposition benches, have said there is a lack of transparency in relation to that independent advice.

Some have questioned whether political parties rely too heavily on stating that the AG advice has found fault with proposed laws by opposition TDs in the Dáil. Some argue at times for the legal advice to be published, something that is rarely ever done.

When asked about the role in general of the AG, and whether he thinks there could be more separation of government, Ross said “there is a case for copper fastening the independence of the AG from the government”. 

Despite Attorney General, Seamus Woulfe famously calling Ross’ bill on judicial appointments a “dog’s dinner” there don’t appear to be any hard feelings. 

“I think the current AG is particularly able and is a man of great integrity, so I don’t want it to be interpreted wrong.

“I think we have to examine the future and the basis upon which a political party appoints an AG,” he said, adding:

“I don’t want to in any way question integrity of any of the attorney generals that we’ve had, but I just think it’s a principle which we should look at very carefully.”

So, what next for Ross?

A return to column writing perhaps.

He is currently considering going back to writing a weekly column in one of the newspapers, stating: “I think I would probably like to do it.”

His main focus is writing a new book which he describes as being an “inside the tent” account of being in government for four years. 

“I want to tell people how it works for the inside. I want to be very indiscreet about it,” he said.  

“I want to write a book saying that, we went inside of the tent for four years, this is what it really looks like. And this is what these people, these individuals are really like. It is kind of ‘inside the cabinet with Fine Gael’. 

“They are all human beings with tales to tell. They lose their temper and they say stupid things, they do stupid things. I did lots of them. And I want to tell people how individuals react in certain situations, and how kind of normal they are. And I want to tell funny stories,” he said. 

“A lot of skulduggery goes on, which people don’t know about, which is kind of county council type stuff,” he said, adding that most things are sorted out with quiet conversations between ministers. 

“I want to tell bad things about myself as well,” added Ross, who said he hopes his book will “demystify” government.

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