Tuesday, 22 June 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
69. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the expected impact of the closure of an airline (details supplied) on tourism; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33143/21]
While the aviation sector is of critical importance in terms of the recovery of our tourism sector, the responsibility for aviation falls to my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan. Accordingly matters such as the closure of an airline come under the remit of his Department.
As an island nation, Ireland relies heavily on air transportation for tourism purposes. Maintaining and growing direct, competitive and convenient access to the island of Ireland is of critical importance to our tourism sector. The air access landscape has profoundly changed since the outbreak of Covid-19 and it may be several years before air capacity returns to the levels seen in 2019. For our tourism sector, strong air and sea access links are vital. The restoration of air connectivity will be essential to restoring growth in overseas tourism to Ireland.
I am keenly aware of the particular importance of regional connectivity and the importance of our regional airports to the regions they serve. Stobart Air had the contract for operating Government-supported PSO air services on two routes between Dublin and the airports of Kerry and Donegal. The recent termination of its franchise agreement with Aer Lingus had immediate implications for both PSO services. I understand that the Department of Transport has initiated an emergency procurement process with a view to restoring air services linking Dublin with Donegal and Kerry airports. The Minister for Transport hopes that this process will be completed by early July with a view to services recommencing by the new operator as soon as possible thereafter. The contract will be subject to a maximum term of seven months and will operate in accordance with EU law.
In light of Government restrictions on travel, load factors on these routes had been very low since the onset of the pandemic. Accordingly, the interim impact of this event on tourism in the regions of Kerry and Donegal is expected to be very small given that replacement services will be restored in the coming weeks in conjunction with the resumption of international travel on 19 July. I will continue to work closely with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and my colleagues across Government to support the restoration of direct connectivity to and within Ireland.
It is difficult not to stray into the Department of Transport as well, as I am sure the Minister, Deputy Martin, will appreciate. I appreciate the level of funding her Department has offered the sector. There are extreme difficulties, particularly in our regions. As a general observation, I want to express my disappointment that Stobart Air went to the wall, in light, in particular, of it being a PSO carrier. A modest level of funding with a requirement for us to ensure that the routes would be retained and maintained might have gone a long way, but it is a bit late now. I appreciate what the Minister said in her response.
On a point of order, I have a bit of difficulty keeping track of business. For some reason, the screen behind the Leas-Cheann Comhairle does not display the business or question being dealt with. I am sure that like me other Members find that slightly problematic.