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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 29 Apr 1992

Vol. 418 No. 8

Adjournment Debate. - Tourism, Transport and Communications and Marine Matters.

With regard to the lack of Government policy on regional airports I am concerned about the way in which Waterford Regional Airport is being treated by the major airlines, specifically the national airline, Aer Lingus and the largest independent airline, Ryanair. Waterford Airport has had a considerable amount of public money invested in improvements in recent years, together with a huge amount of investment from the local community in Waterford and surrounding districts. Something in the region of £4 million to £5 million has been invested. The runway at the airport was lengthened and widened. Navigational aids were brought in and a modern terminal building is just being completed. Aer Lingus and Ryanair have seen fit to virtually abandon Waterford. Less than two years ago Aer Lingus withdrew the one service operating in and out of the airport. That was a feeder service which was operated in the middle of the day rather than earlier in the morning or late in the evening, when it would be of some use to commuters to Britain and other destinations. Ryanair have seen fit to cut back their services from three flights a day to one flight a day and that flight is now in the middle of the day and is not of great value to people who wish to do business in the UK and elsewhere.

I agree that 1991 was not a good year for airlines in general. It is a very poor year on which to base financial predictions. Apparently both companies are using the figures for 1991 as an excuse for not continuing to use the airport as it should be used. Early morning and late evening flights in and out of the airport are profitable. We would expect the Government to see to it that Aer Lingus and Ryanair provide a service to help the airport to survive. It is hard to see them surviving as a viable entity unless the national airline at least, does something about it. We are looking to the Minister of State, Deputy Kenneally, who is here this evening, to assist in getting the type of service needed, seeing that the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications, Deputy Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, announced such a service for Galway the week after she was appointed to the Cabinet.

I appreciate Deputy Deasy having raised this matter in the House this evening, one to which I can respond without any departmental brief because I served on the board of Waterford Regional Airport until my recent appointment when I had to resign.

The Government are committed to the development and expansion of Waterford Airport. To date, over £2.6 million have been made available to the airport through Exchequer and EC sources.

Tangible evidence of the Government's commitment to Waterford Airport will be the opening of the new terminal building shortly. Furthermore, the necessary regulatory arrangements have been negotiated with the United Kingdom and the EC to facilitate services operating through regional airports like Waterford.

While facilities at Waterford Airport are being upgraded and expanded to offer an improved standard of service to airlines and passengers alike, traffic through the airport has been hit severely by the impact of the international recession in air transport, particularly in the United Kingdom, which has resulted in Ryanair reducing the scale of their frequency through the airport this year, compared with last year.

Ryanair currently operate a scheduled service between Waterford and Stansted on a six-times weekly basis. However, Ryanair have indicated to me that it is their intention to expand services through the airport should there be an improvement in traffic demand and are closely monitoring the situation. I should add also that Ryanair have recently reduced some of their fares through the airport to boost traffic.

The provision of air services through Waterford Airport is primarily a matter for the commercial judgement of the airlines concerned. However, I know that the airport company are most anxious to attract Aer Lingus back to Waterford to reintroduce the previous Waterford — Dublin link. I have spoken personally with the Chairman of Waterford Regional Airport PLC on this matter and have asked Aer Lingus to re-examine this question. I expect to be following up this initiative within the next two weeks and will keep my constituency colleague informed of any developments.

Coastal erosion, in particular associated drifting sand, is creating a very real threat to large tracts of fertile land between Roughley and Knocklane in North Sligo, the area known locally as Trá Bhúi. This is the second occasion on which the moving sands of Trá Bhúi have figured in Parliament, the last occasion being in the House of Commons in the last century when a select committee were informed that 2,000 acres of land had been covered in drifting sand, many people having had to leave their homes, some who held on to their homes having to gain entrance through the roofs, the doors and windows having being blocked up. That select committee were told that that formidable evil was stopped by bent-grass introduced into the area by Lord Palmerston without which the whole of Maugherow would have been converted into a Sahara.

Fortunately, I do not have to report to Dáil Éireann any such impending disaster. The most of Maugherow remains green and fertile and became famous for the production of early potatoes and early vegetables but there is a new, very dangerous threat from the sands. I believe this orginated from a break-up in parts of the bent-grass protection planted by Lord Palmerston. Serious coastal erosion is recurring. The result is that previously productive fields have been ruined by flooding, with even greater damage being caused by the blowing sands. I had the opportunity of seeing this myself last week along with local Councillor, Joe Leonard, when I was amazed at the damage, the inroads that are visible.

The Minister will have the technical knowledge available to him on how best this should be tackled. I believe part of the answer may lie in the resowing of bent-grass, replacing it where it has been damaged. Sligo County Council undertook some work of this nature with a somewhat similar problem in nearby Mullaghmore which I understand is proving to be effective. In order to encourage the Minister, Dr. Woods to take such action I might give a gentle hint that some time after planting the bent-grass on the Sligo coast, Lord Palmerston twice became Prime Minister of his country.

I am aware that parts of the County Sligo coastline are subject to coastal erosion, as is the case with many other parts of our coastline. I am very familiar with this and fully appreciate the case made by Deputy Ted Nealon in that I have experienced the same problem in many parts of my constituency.

In relation to County Sligo and the areas to which Deputy Nealon has referred, I should say my Department have been in touch with maritime local authorities — including Sligo County Council — with a view to establishing priorities for coastal protection. My Department's policy is to facilitate the implementation of permanent schemes, where warranted, to prevent progressive erosion by the sea. It is proposed to draw up a programme based on information furnished by local authorities and on the advice of my Department's engineering division. A considerable amount of information has been compiled already. I am aware that county engineers are in the course of preparing an overall report to assist this process.

Knocklane and Yellow Strand were among the areas addressed by Sligo County Council in their submission to my Department, it being stated in their report that re-routing the road to Knocklane and Yellow Strand would appear to be a more expedient, economic solution to the erosion problem in the area rather than undertaking expensive protection works.

The proposals of Sligo County Council, including that for rock armouring at nearby Roughley to protect dwellings, and a road will be considered inter alia in the light of the funds available to my Department for coastal protection in ensuing years along with the funds available to the local authority consistent with the priorities submitted by other maritime counties.

I am fully aware of the difficulties erosion is causing in many areas, including this one. The Deputy can rest assured that my Department will closely examine the submissions presented by the maritime councils, in particular that of Sligo. Perhaps one might suggest it is time to examine the matter of bent-grass. Whether it be myself or the Minister who may follow in the footsteps of Lord Palmerston is a decision we must await.

Over five weeks ago large globules of oil were washed up on the Kerry coast, with over 90 per cent of Kerry beaches, from Derrynane in south Kerry, to Beale on the Shannon estuary being affected. Kerry County Council took immediate action and had their workmen deployed on the beaches immediately when, at one stage over 100 men were working on the clean-up. The problem has receded considerably over the past two weeks. Nonetheless small amounts of globules were washed up on Beale beach this week.

To date Kerry County Council have spent over £70,000 on the clean-up. Unless the Minister for the Marine can reimburse them this expenditure such funds will have to be extracted from our already meagre county roads funds. At the April meeting of Kerry County Council, the Minister's colleague, Deputy Tom McEllistrim, stated that the Minister, Dr. Woods, had given him a personal commitment that Kerry County Council would be reimbursed their expenditure 100 per cent immediately by his Department. It was also reported in the The Kerryman that the Minister had given a similar commitment to our County Manager, Mr. D'Arcy, on his recent visit to Fenit port.

I contend a special fund should be made available on a permanent basis to coastal counties to enable them respond immediately to any such emergencies in the future without the attendant fear of their losing their meagre county roads allocation. Otherwise they will be reluctant to spend large amounts of scarce resources on similar clean-ups.

I hope the Minister's response will be a positive one.

On 16 March 1992 my Department were advised of the oil pollution found on the beaches of north Kerry. Immediately all the facilities of the Department including the Sikorsky S61N helicopter based at Shannon; were made available to assist with the clean-up work.

When faced with such a predicament such as the oil pollution which affected our west coast obviously time is of the essence. When the pollution was observed I am advised that the local authorities concerned responded as soon as practicable. Later when concern arose about the costs that might be involved my Department were contacted by those authorities. In order to prevent the oil spreading further along unaffected areas of the beaches, my Department liaised with Kerry, Galway, Clare and Mayo county councils requesting them to complete the clean-up operation.

The situation with regard to the clean-up costs is that the polluter must first be identified before the shipowners and cargo owners and/or their insurers can be requested to refund the costs incurred in the clean-up operation. In an effort to trace the polluter my Department contacted the United Kingdom Marine Pollution Response Unit and the International Maritime Organisation in London requesting any information they might have concerning damaged vessels. Unfortunately, they had no report of damaged vessels. My Department also asked the United Kingdom Coastguard and Lloyds whether they have any knowledge of vessels missing off our west coast but, to date, we have had no success in tracing the culprit.

I fully appreciate the concerns of Deputy Deenihan. Recently I had first hand experience of this when a Russian vessel, the Victor Lyagin went on the rocks off the Donegal coast with 80,000 gallons of oil on board. I appreciate the costs involved, that the council have difficulties and that ever effort must be made to try to assist them.

I also note the concerns of the council's esteemed chairman, Deputy McEllistrim, who has obviously discussed this matter with the Minister for the Marine, Deputy Woods. I have asked the county councils concerned, including Kerry County Council, to supply my Department with comprehensive details of the costs incurred. I will raise the matter with the Government as soon as the details of the costs have been finalised with my Department.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 30 April 1992.