There are five cities in this State, three of which have State-run airports, Dublin, Cork and Limerick. Galway, like Waterford, has a regional airport but it has a public service obligation route to Dublin with an anticipated €112 subvention for each return journey. The major difference between the airports in the cities of Galway and Waterford is this subvention, but the inequity does not stop there.
There are six regional airports in total, Waterford, Kerry, Galway, Knock, Sligo and Donegal. All except Waterford have a public service obligation route to Dublin. There is also a public service obligation route from Derry to Dublin. Passengers on a return trip on the Kerry-Dublin route are subvented by an anticipated €114. Passengers from Knock to Dublin are subvented by an anticipated €560 per return journey. The anticipated subventions on a return journey from Sligo and Donegal are €174 and €350, respectively. The Dublin-Derry return trip subvention is of the order of €236.
Access transport remains a major problem for Waterford. The southern section of the upgraded N9-N10, Kilcullen-Waterford road is causing major concern as regards when and if construction will commence. This has to be viewed in conjunction with Waterford losing its link with the North Wall rail freight hub in early January 2003, which will effectively close down the rail links from Waterford port. On the one hand, this will put considerable extra freight on a very inadequate road system while on the other it will greatly restrict the port of Waterford's ability to generate new business. The proposed new river crossing at Waterford is to be hard tolled, while heavy vehicles using the Dublin port tunnel will not be tolled.
Waterford is the only one of the five major cities not to have a university. Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats have refused to give the excellent Waterford Institute of Technology a stand-alone status similar to the Dublin Institute of Technology so that it can more rapidly achieve university status. Recent cutbacks further exacerbate this situation. Cork, Limerick and Galway all have both universities and institutes of technology. There are also serious concerns regarding the rollout of broadband for Waterford.
EuroCeltic Airways will be withdrawing its services from Waterford with effect from 26 January 2003. Yesterday, eight days before Christmas, protective notice was issued to the 22 staff at the South Eastern Regional Airport in Waterford. The helicopter search and rescue service operated at the airport on behalf of the Irish coastguard is now threatened because of the financial situation. The airport board is making every effort to keep the airport open but it is extremely hard to be optimistic. It received a marketing grant of €410,000 this year. The minimum running costs will be of the order of €800,000 not just to stay open but to provide the required level of manpower and services. Nicholas Fewer, the chairman of the airport company, pointed out that the five other regional airports received the vast bulk of the €29 million in subsidies paid out this year. He also stated that neither the South East Regional Airport nor EuroCeltic Airways can continue to provide essential services from Waterford while running up substantial losses. I regret that the Minister for Transport is not here for this debate.