Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Questions (5)

Jan O'Sullivan


5. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if she is has received a report from an organisation (details supplied) which highlights the threat to the goals of Ireland 2040 if aviation policy is not reviewed to recognise the importance of air connectivity in achieving regional balance and the sustainability of jobs; if she will ensure the policy is reviewed to support businesses in the regions to remain connected in view of the threats posed by Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41116/19]

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Oral answers (15 contributions) (Question to Business)

The report to which I refer in my question was carried out by Copenhagen Economics at the request of Limerick Chamber in conjunction with the Shannon, Ennis and Galway chambers of commerce. It points to the threats to jobs in the Shannon region if Shannon Airport is not supported, particularly in the context of Brexit. I want the Minister to ensure aviation policy will be changed to ensure businesses in the region and others that might be affected will be protected.

I am aware of the Copenhagen Economics report which was commissioned by Limerick Chamber to which the Deputy referred. I must, first, point out that aviation policy, as the Deputy knows, falls within the mandate of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. She will also be aware that A National Aviation Policy for Ireland is a key policy document for both national and regional airports.

I agree that it is critical for regional development that Shannon Airport continue to exploit opportunities that support both the local economy and that of the State. It is also vital that the stakeholders in the region support the airport in order to optimise the opportunities to grow services and ensure their viability by using them.

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has engaged in detail during the development and roll-out of Project Ireland 2040. More recently, it engaged with the Southern Regional Assembly in drafting its regional spatial and economic strategy, which includes the mid-west. Project Ireland 2040 sets out our national strategy to achieve the Government's regional development objectives. It states clearly that international air connectivity through our main airports, including Shannon Airport, as well as our smaller regional airports, is key to our national development plan, NDP. The plan highlights specifically the critically important role that Shannon Airport plays in the mid-west. Enterprise policy has a key role to play in the development of Limerick and the mid-west as an attractive and vibrant location in which to live, work, invest and set up business. In February this year, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, launched the mid-west regional enterprise plan, which covers the period up to 2020. The development of the region's capacity to deliver economic growth is one of the core strategic objectives of the plan, which includes a collaborative regional focus on exploring opportunities for greater utilisation of capacity at Shannon Airport.

With due respect to the Minister of State, my problem is that I was hoping for an answer from the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation because I think this matter needs to be raised at Cabinet level. All the answers we get from the Minister, Deputy Ross, and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport inform us that aviation policy does not allow the Government to invest in Shannon Airport. Under EU rules, it is permitted to make such investment. It is clear from the Copenhagen Economics report that businesses, particularly multinational businesses that employ many people in the mid-west, are in danger if the percentage of air traffic in Ireland that goes through Dublin Airport continues to increase at the current rate and Shannon Airport is not supported in any way. Private regional airports are supported, but Shannon and Cork airports are not. My fundamental question is for the Minister and I hope she is listening. Will she raise at Cabinet level the need for aviation policy to be aligned with regional policy and with Project 2040? At the moment, they are totally unaligned. Will the Minister and the Ministers of State protect the businesses in the Shannon region that are depending on international connectivity by ensuring there is connectivity with an EU hub such as Frankfurt in the event of a no-deal Brexit or some other form of Brexit? The Minister of State, Deputy Breen, knows well that such protection is needed given that Heathrow Airport will not be in the EU anymore.

The Deputy may be aware that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, announced yesterday that a marketing support fund of approximately €10 million over three years is to be made available to support the regional airports outside Dublin, including Shannon Airport. In December 2017, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation provided €250,000 in funding under the regional enterprise development fund to support the development of the Emerald aero cluster in the mid-west. I believe this project is progressing well. The NDP further highlights the plans for the Shannon Group in this regard. An investment of €150 million, including €100 million for the development of the property portfolio through the delivery of high-quality advanced manufacturing, warehouse and office space solutions, has been outlined in the capital programme over the period to 2022. This programme will help IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland in their drive to attract inward investment and increase employment in the region. As the Deputy will be aware, aviation policy is part of the remit of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Project Ireland 2040 makes it clear that international air connectivity through our main airports, including Shannon Airport and the smaller regional airports, is a key part of the success of the NDP. In my constituency, €5 million has been made available for the extension of the runway at Waterford Airport. All of this is part of Project Ireland 2040. Shannon Airport is mentioned in the national plan more often than any other airport.

The Minister of State has made my point, which is that aviation policy does not support Shannon Airport. There is an insistence on regional balance in regional policy and in Project Ireland 2040. According to the Copenhagen Economics report, "Other small open economies, where a similar concentration in market shares has been seen, have implemented policy initiatives to counteract the dominance of the national airport and mitigate negative impacts on other airports." I appeal to the Government to align its policies to ensure the completely unbalanced airport sector in Ireland does not result in the loss of jobs in the successful mid-west region. Action can be taken and I want action to be taken.

Tourism Ireland strongly promotes Shannon Airport as an access point. It has highlighted the issues raised by the Deputy. A large amount has been given to Tourism Ireland to ensure airports outside Dublin are part of the overall strategy, plan and agenda. I spoke to the Minister about funding for regional airports yesterday. When we get the details of the budget, we will see that substantial funding of €10 million is being made available to airports over three years.

It is not being made available to Shannon and Cork airports.

Market funding of €10 million is being provided to support regional airports outside Dublin.

I am not talking about privately owned airports.

I believe Shannon Airport is mentioned on a number of occasions in the national plan for the period up to 2040.

It is not enough to be mentioned.

The Government has made a commitment that it will support regional airports, particularly Shannon Airport. Waterford Airport, which is smaller than Shannon Airport, is receiving €5 million in support under the 2040 plan essentially because of the need for regional development.

It is getting that money because it is a private airport.

The Deputy can rest assured that the Government will continue to support Shannon Airport.

I hope the Minister of State is right.