The Government has taken an informal decision to go ahead with a second terminal at Dublin Airport. All the key ministers have agreed to a proposal for an early start to the project.
It is understood that the most powerful ministers in the Cabinet, including Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Tanaiste Mary Harney, Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy and Minister for Transport Seamus Brennan, have decided to give the second terminal the go-ahead.
A paper is due to be presented to the Cabinet before the end of the month. The Minister for Transport, Mr Brennan, has written to the appropriate trade unions,including Siptu, Impact and others, inviting them to early talks on the Government's proposals.
The new terminal will be open to the trade unions and no hindrance to union membership will be placed in the way of anybody employed there. This matter will be left as an issue to be decided by the owners of the second terminal and the workforce.
The second terminal will be in private ownership and will be put out to tender. On the last occasion that the Government offered the project two years ago, there were 13 expressions of interest.
The possibility of a conflict between Aer Rianta (or the new Dublin Airport Authority) and the private owners of the new terminal is addressed by the Government's proposals. The location of the second terminal will be on the current 500-acre site at Dublin Airport, but must be agreed between the managers of the old terminal (the Dublin Airport Authority) and the owners of the new one.
Observers anticipate less difficulty with an agreement when the old board of Aer Rianta - headed by Noel Hanlon - leaves office to be succeeded by the new authority, led by Smurfit chief Gary McGann. Mr Hanlon and his board have a history of opposition to the second terminal.
In the event of a disagreement between the two terminal management teams, the airports regulator, Mr Bill Prosifka, will adjudicate. He will have to ensure real competition exists between the two terminals.
Last night, Ryanair's Michael O'Leary remained sceptical about a further prospect of a second terminal. "If they talk to the unions," he said, "there will be two more years of fudge and dither. If a second terminal was opened, we would open 20 new routes to places like Carcassonne and Venice. But we do not need some bearded numbnuts to obstruct progress at every turn. At present, Dublin Airport is a Third-World rat hole and must be improved. We would bring thousands of new businessmen to Ireland."
But the Ryanair chief saw a ray of encouragement in the new Dublin Airport Authority board due to take office at the end of this month. "At least it will mark the end of the ambulance driver [chairman Noel Hanlon] and all those Fianna Fail hacks on the board," said O'Leary. "And hopefully we will not have to put up with those muppets of worker-directors for much longer."