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Negotiations on Shannon Airport Should Not Proceed Until Economic Impact Study is Completed

Location: Washington, DC


TUESDAY, MAY 4, 2004

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I rise today with my colleagues, Chairman Hyde, Ranking Member Oberstar, and Rep. Peter King and Donald Payne, to introduce legislation on a critical and timely issue of interest to both U.S. and Irish companies operating in western Ireland and the impact on jobs in that region. The concern arises out of negotiations between the United States and Ireland that will determine the status of Shannon Airport, an important gateway for commerce and tourism between our two countries.

Under the "dual gateway" policy international carriers currently operating flights between to and from the United States through Dublin are required to undertake an equal number of flights to Shannon Airport and Dublin Airport over each calendar year.

The Dual Gateway Policy Review Act we are introducing today provides for an economic impact study proposed changes to the "dual gateway" policy might have on U.S. businesses operating in western Ireland, Irish businesses operating in and around Shannon Airport, and U.S. air carriers serving Ireland.

This matter came to my attention recently through the persistent efforts of Dana Rosemary Scallon, a Member of the European Parliament representing much of western Ireland, the region that would be most adversely affected by changes actively under negotiation between Washington and Dublin. In fact, it is my understanding that talks are underway this week in Washington between American and Irish negotiators.

At Ms. Scallon urging, I arranged for us to meet with the chief U.S. aviation negotiators in February, here in Washington. I was shocked and dismayed to learn that no consideration whatsoever had been given to the potential loss of jobs and negative economic impact that such a policy change would have on western Ireland.

A key element missing from these talks-a glaring omission in my view-is an expert assessment of the economic impact of changing the status of Shannon Airport, an economic hub critical to development in western Ireland and the estimated 140 U.S. corporations operating in the region. My legislation would correct this shortcoming.

Mr. Speaker, in a series of meetings arranged last week by Ms. Scallon, I met with representatives of scores of U.S. corporations deeply concerned over the potential impact of modifications or discontinuance of the "dual gateway" policy on their operations. Approximately half of U.S. investment in Ireland is made in the western part of the country. Many of these corporations have made sizable investments in western Ireland and are keen to maintain their presence in the region, but would be forced to reevaluate their positions should Shannon Airport's status be downgraded.

These business executives estimate that 40,000 jobs on the western corridor from north of Galway to south of Limerick are directly affected by Shannon Airport. An additional 80,000 jobs are indirectly affected by Shannon operations according to these business representatives. I also met with local leaders along the west coast who were united in their concern over the likely economic and social consequences of a downgrading of Shannon Airport's status. Business leaders from County Donegal warned of the ripple effect their region would feel from such a change.

The potential threat posed by possible changes to the "dual gateway" policy have galvanized U.S. business executives representing many different sizes and types of enterprises along the west coast to speak out with a single voice on this matter. They highlight the fact that Shannon Airport is a major access point to and from the U.S. and European cities necessary to sustain and promote development and growth in the region.

Mr. Speaker, for nearly six decades Shannon Airport has served as a vital gateway for the United States to Ireland and beyond. Indeed, many Americans, including me, trace their family roots back generations to counties along the rugged western coast of Ireland. Hundreds of thousands of American tourists pass trough this gateway each year. An estimated 140 U.S. corporations have come to rely upon Shannon Airport as a vital gateway to doing business in western Ireland.


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