AS State Papers from 1981 reveal the commitment of former Mayo Minister Pádraig Flynn to the development of Knock Airport, Junior Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Michael Ring has given the airport another boost.
Five days after the 1981 General Election, the then outgoing Minister for Transport, Pádraig Flynn, signed a £3.6 million contract to start the development at the airport. Thirty years later, Fine Gael’s Michael Ring has announced that religious tourism to Knock Shrine is being promoted as part of his overall strategy to optimise use of the Mayo airport.
He has also asked Tourism Ireland to work closely with Ryanair and Knock Airport to ensure that four new routes are promoted to overseas visitors.
“These routes to Frankfurt, Paris, Milan and Barcelona mean that some 330 million people now have direct access to Mayo and the west,” Minister Ring said.
He continued: “Our tourism agencies like Fáilte Ireland are also providing support to tourism businesses in the west, and across Ireland, to help them focus on the British market. I hope that all of these efforts will help to keep overseas visitors coming in to Knock Airport, and will ensure that the new routes will have a real impact on tourism in the west of Ireland.”
IRONICALLY, the State papers reveal that the eleventh-hour 1981 approval for Knock Airport – the controversial brainchild of the late Monsignor James Horan – came to fruition despite ‘deep concerns’ by the then Minister for Finance and serious issues raised by a government working group report.
In the days before the general election of June 1981, the first meeting of the airport’s development company revealed over half a million pounds had already been spent on the project, dubbed by the late Minister for Communications, Jim Mitchell as ‘an ill-advised project, far distant from any sizable town, high on a foggy and boggy hill’.
The meeting also heard that even though contracts for earth-moving and site development had not been signed, work had been carried out on the site at Barrnacogue Hill ‘for some time’.
On June 4, 1981, Msgr James Horan phoned Taoiseach Charles Haughey’s Private Secretary, Seán Aylward because AIB was delaying a £2 million loan for development due to ‘the inadequacies of government guarantees’, according to a note for Mr Haughey. The loan would have covered payments until the Dáil approved the funding. Mr Aylward told him it would be discussed at the first meeting of the development company, which would include government officials.
Then on June 16, ‘the placing of the contract was formally approved’ by Minister Flynn, ‘five days after the general election’ but before the formation of the new Fine Gael-Labour government. The contract was for £3.6 million for a runway and the first payment was sanctioned by the new Dáil on July 9.
The project was dropped in December 1981 but restarted when Fianna Fáil returned to power in February 1982, with the first flight made in 1985.