Tuesday, 16 November 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Minister of State for agreeing to take this Topical Issue matter tonight. Two weeks ago, I spoke at an aviation conference held in County Clare. On the Wednesday evening we had what is called a fireside chat. An expert panel on the future of aviation, aviation recovery, etc., was assembled. A very interesting discussion evolved with Patrick Blaney, John McMahon and Joe Gill on that panel. Anybody who follows aviation will know that they have been three of the kingpins of Irish aviation over many years in terms of policy, leading the industry and thinking of its future.
We went off on a tangent talking about the vision of sustainable aviation in the future. The current young generation are a mixture of some anomalies and contradictions. They will gladly order four pairs of jeans to be delivered by Next or Amazon via a courier. They will keep one and send back three. Yet many of the same generation believe in flight shaming and that people should not be travelling all around the world because of their carbon footprint. Therein is a contradiction. There is a major move rightly and, in some places, misguided to quickly get to a sustainable form of aviation which we need to embrace, as many European governments are. There is a European-wide multibillion euro stimulus package to get the airlines and all those who work in the aviation sector to a net carbon neutral position, as we and many other countries aspire to, by 2050.
Since we discussed sustainable aviation at that meeting, I have been looking at hydrogen. Hydrogen is now seen as a more sustainable fuel for powering aircraft. At the start of the summer, we saw the first commercial hydrogen-powered flight take off in Britain. It very successfully carried passengers and this is seen as the way forward. Airbus is already developing a number of concept aircraft which it hopes to have in the skies by 2035. While this may seem a little way off, I do not believe we in Ireland have fully grasped the real opportunities that this presents over the next decade or so in terms of testing out, seedbed activity and seeing how all this develops.
Political leadership has been shown in the mid west, Clare and Shannon over many years. Even before Shannon Airport existed, setting up Foynes as an international destination for flying boats coming in was one opportunity. We have had the Shannon stopover. There have been many opportunities successfully seized by those in the mid west.
I have mentioned Airbus and how the European Union is getting involved. The British Government is also throwing significant money behind this, but we in Ireland seem to be lagging behind. That brings me to County Clare. Hydrogen can be produced from water through the process of electrolysis using renewable power. Offshore in county Clare we have major plans to develop 1.4 GW offshore wind farm - the Green Atlantic project. While it creates jobs and will bring €2 billion worth of investment into the county, what happens on shore is most exciting. It will convert much of this electricity generated at these enormous turbines offshore into hydrogen. We have Shannon Airport just up the road and we have this knowledge corridor involving LIT, now a technological university, UL, NUI Galway. We have a motorway and the airport. With so much going on there, it is the ideal part of the country to have a test bed for sustainable aviation and to look at hydrogen fuel, as I have mentioned, and to seize the opportunity that could present. I would like to hear the Minister of State's thoughts.