The Oireachtas committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has been told by Government TD John Deasy that flexibility must be found within transport budgets to finally fund an extension of the runway at Waterford Airport.
During a discussion of the South-East Economic Development Strategy Report, the Waterford Deputy stressed “It is a critical time now for the airport” – describing the fact that its manager Graham Doyle is leaving to become an assistant secretary in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport as “significant” and “bad news, in my opinion.”
He observed that the airport has “three options”, ranging in cost from €1.25 million to €7m, to the €10m it would cost to land 737s. “Realistically” we are talking about the cheapest, Mr Deasy said, equating it to “the cost of a three-bedroom semi-detached house in parts of this city a few years ago. It is not a lot of money.
“As far as the Department is concerned, the case is being made, successfully, that it is worth investing in the airport.” To bring in jet aircraft and attract a London carrier, “The people who have worked there for the past four years have used every penny to try to lay the ground at the airport for additional expansion at the north and south ends of the runway.”
Mr Deasy added, “I am having a discussion on the matter with the Minister… If we are all of the opinion that the airport is a key piece of infrastructure then we must examine the entirety of the transport budget and ask ourselves one question, namely, whether we are prioritising what we should prioritise?
“In that context, the answer is ‘No’.… My point is that budgets within the Department are not flexible enough,” he said.
Deputy Deasy insisted: “We have to have an urgent discussion within the Department,” suggesting, for example, that “It may not be wise for us to continue spending millions of euro on something like Smarter Travel when a vital piece of infrastructure for the southeast is not being funded sufficiently, and it does not involve a lot of money.”
The committee heard from, among others, Waterford City Manager Michael Walsh, Waterford Chamber President Nora Widger, and Senan Cooke of Dunhill Rural Enterprises. About the strategy, which is nearing completion, Mr Deasy thanked Senator David Cullinane “for his work on putting all of this together. It is valuable.”
>> For the transcript of the full committee discussion, click here (pages 3-12)