Incoming Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) chairwoman Rose Hynes confirmed that she contacted the then taoiseach Leo Varadkar after learning that she was not being reappointed to head State company Shannon Group’s board.
Former transport minister Shane Ross recounts in his book, In Bed with the Blueshirts, that shortly after he told Ms Hynes he was not reappointing her as chairwoman of Shannon Group, Mr Varadkar called asking him to reconsider.
Responding to questions from Senator Timmy Dooley, Ms Hynes confirmed that she spoke to the then taoiseach after hearing from Mr Ross in 2019.
“I did call the taoiseach, just to explain my situation,” she told the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications. Ms Hynes added that she did not ask Mr Varadkar to do anything, nor did she regard the call as lobbying.
Ms Hynes remained as chairwoman of the company responsible for Shannon Airport for another year. She left in August 2020.
She was unable to say if she filed a return to the Standards in Public Office Commission recording the call with Mr Varadkar, which would have been required had she been lobbying Mr Varadkar.
Ms Hynes pointed out that during her time as Shannon Group she made numerous returns to the commission, as her role required her to lobby to help “get things done for the airport”.
Mr Dooley noted that in 2013, Ms Hynes announced a plan to grow passenger numbers at Shannon Airport to 2.5 million from 1.4 million over the following five years.
“The reality is that over that period of time passenger numbers grew by 300,000 to 1.7 million, that was on your watch,” the Fianna Fáil senator pointed out. Ms Hynes answered that she had no executive role in Shannon Group.
She told the committee that she was a member of eight boards. She applied for the IAA role after the secretary general of the Department of Transport, texted her on December 29th saying he wished to discuss a vacancy with her.
The pair spoke the following day, when Ms Hynes learned what the vacancy actually was. “He left it with me to think about it,” she told the committee.
Ms Hynes will oversee the restructuring of the IAA. Its air traffic control and navigation operations, for which airlines pay, will move to a new company, Airnav Ireland.
Its safety watchdog role will be split from that and absorb consumer protection body, the Commission for Aviation Regulation, to create a new air travel overseer for the Republic. Ms Hynes predicted that this could happen by the end of March 2022.
In a statement, Ms Hynes confirmed that the IAA was acting on a series of secret recommendations by intermediary, Kieran Mulvey, meant to tackle recent industrial relations problems at the IAA.
Committee members could seek laws demanding that information from State air navigation maps be included in data used by search and rescue services to help prevent repeat of the Blackrock tragedy, where four helicopter rescue crew died.
IAA chief executive, Diarmuid O Conghaile, told the committee that Blackrock, the Co Mayo island into which the helicopter in which the four officers were flying crashed in March 2017, was not shown on “third party databases” used by the service.
He pointed out that charts provided by the IAA did show the island, but these are designed for flying with visibility and specified keeping aircraft at certain minimum altitudes.
Mr O Conghaile told the committee that the IAA was implementing the recommendations, applying to it, in the report of the Air Accident Investigation Unit report into the tragedy.
Responding to calls from some members, chairman Kieran O’Donnell TD, said the committee could consider writing to the Government seeking laws demanding that information contained in IAA charts be included in third-party databases used by the search and rescue service.