Written answers

Thursday, 4 July 2024

Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport

Airport Policy

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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50. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will establish a taskforce to examine all transportation options, both current and future, to and from Shannon Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28276/24]

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I thank the Deputy for their question and note the importance of Shannon Airport in supporting Ireland’s overall connectivity. Our ability as a country to attract, and to retain, foreign direct investment is dependent on this international connectivity. Such connectivity also facilitates trade and is a significant enabler of our tourism industry, with an estimated 90% of our tourists arriving by air.

Shannon Airport has had a very strong recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Passenger numbers at the airport in 2023 were at their highest since 2009, and this strong performance has continued to date in 2024.

While my Department does not have any current plans to establish a taskforce in line with what the Deputy has described, I wish to assure the Deputy that work is ongoing to improve transport links around Shannon Airport, with further planning underway for possible improvements into the future.

Public Transport

As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. The National Transport Authority (NTA) has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public passenger transport services nationally. The NTA also has national responsibility for integrated local and rural transport, including TFI Local Link services and the rollout of services under the Connecting Ireland Rural Mobility Plan.

The National Transport Authority (NTA), in partnership with Bus Éireann and TFI Local Link Limerick Clare, is proposing to improve Route 343, which would bring improvements in access to Shannon Airport. This enhancement is part of the Connecting Ireland Rural Mobility Plan, which is a major national public transport initiative developed and funded by the National Transport Authority (NTA) as part of the Transport for Ireland (TFI) Network.

The purpose of the amendment is to:

  • Improve the public transport service between Limerick, Shannon and Ennis, as well as other intermediate places such as Sixmilebridge, Quin and Kilmurry.
  • Make services more frequent, more reliable, and easier to understand and use.
  • Improve access to Shannon Airport, with a new 24/7 service between the Airport, Shannon Town and Limerick.
  • The NTA intends to implement these revised routes and services by the end of this year.
The NTA intends to re-shape the current Route 343 by splitting it into four separate routes as follows:
  • New Route 343 will run between Limerick and Shannon (Town, Free Zone & Shannon Airport) and will be operated by Bus Éireann.
  • New Route 330 will run between Ennis and Shannon (Town, industrial zones & Shannon Airport) and will be operated by Bus Éireann.
  • New Route 316 will run between Sixmilebridge and Shannon (Town, industrial zones & Shannon Airport) and will be operated by Bus Éireann.
  • New Route 317 will run between the Jetland Shopping Centre (Limerick) and Ennis via Sixmilebridge and will be operated by TFI Local Link Limerick Clare.
The revised network will result in a higher frequency between Shannon and Limerick; a high-frequency, simple common bus corridor between Shannon Town, its industrial areas, and Shannon airport; and more departures to Ennis, Sixmilebridge, Kilmurry, Cratloe and Quin.

The consultation, which closed on 9 May 2024, ran for 3 weeks.

Roads

The N19 Shannon Airport Access Road Improvement Scheme is funded under TII’s Minors Programme. The scheme aims to improve the road between Drumgeely Roundabout and Knockbeagh Point Roundabout on the approach to the airport, including improved provision for public transport and active travel. €500,000 was allocated for this scheme in 2024, with work continuing on Design and Environmental Evaluation.

In 2024, Clare County Council received an initial allocation of €43,594,200 for the maintenance and improvement of regional and local roads. On 31st May 2024, I announced additional funding of €30 million to local authorities through Restoration Improvement (RI) Grants following persistent rainfall over winter and spring. Of this funding, Clare County Council received an additional Supplementary RI allocation of €1,296,500.

Future Development

The All-Island Strategic Rail Review is being undertaken by my Department, in co-operation with the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland. The Review will inform the development of rail on the Island of Ireland in the coming decades to 2050, in line with net zero targets in both jurisdictions. Work on the Review is now at an advanced stage and a draft Report was published for a Strategic Environmental Assessment, or SEA, public consultation in July of last year.

The draft Report makes 30 strategic recommendations to enhance the rail system across the island up to 2050, including recommendations around improving the rail connectivity of Shannon Airport with its surrounding area, and other airports on the island of Ireland.

The public consultation phase of the SEA process concluded on 29th September 2023 and submissions have been reviewed by officials from both Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is expected that a Review report, taking account of the comments raised in the consultation, will be submitted for Government shortly and that the final Review will be published by the end of the Summer.

Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy

The Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy, which includes plans to improve transport links with Shannon Airport, was prepared by the National Transport Authority (NTA) in collaboration with Limerick City and County Council, Clare County Council, and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, with the cooperation of Iarnród Éireann.

Noting the NTA's role in the development of the strategy, and in the management and operation of TFI Local Link Services and Connecting Ireland, I have referred the Deputy's question to the NTA for a direct reply. Please contact my private office if you do not receive a reply within 10 days.

Photo of Violet-Anne WynneViolet-Anne Wynne (Clare, Independent)
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51. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his Department has plans for further regional airport development after 2024; if it is likely that Shannon will receive further funding in this or similar schemes from 2025 onwards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28517/24]

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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As an island nation, aviation plays a crucial role in our economy and society. The National Aviation Policy (“NAP”) published in August 2015, established a policy framework for the development of the aviation sector. The NAP was designed to create an environment that would encourage the sector to enhance Ireland's connectivity, to foster the growth of aviation enterprise and to maximise the contribution of aviation to Ireland's sustainable economic growth and development.

In line with the action points under the NAP on regional airports, regional airports are supported under a Regional Airports Programme. The current Programme for the period 2021-2025 continues to support Ireland’s smallest airports, those that provide scheduled passenger services and handle fewer than one million passengers per annum. In addition to targeting funding at safety and security projects and activities, the scope of the Programme was expanded to encourage airports to reduce emissions and build climate resilience. A PSO air service between Donegal and Dublin is also supported under the Programme providing vital connectivity to the people and businesses in the North-West region.

I am pleased to see that Ireland has established good connectivity via our regional airports with the UK, Europe and America. The targeted Exchequer funding to this sector has supported this connectivity, with overall passenger traffic across Irish regional airports in 2023 9% above 2019 levels (the last comparable period prior to COVID-19). I am also encouraged by the strong growth experienced to date this year, with passenger traffic to end May again 9% higher when compared to the same period last year.

That said, to consider how Exchequer funding to this sector is delivering on its objectives, primarily in the context of how international connectivity and services to and from the regions can be maintained and enhanced, a mid-term review of the Regional Airports Programme was undertaken in 2023. My Department carried out a public consultation last year to inform this review, which was finalised in late December.

In relation to Shannon Airport, both Shannon and Cork regional State airports are expected to operate on a commercial basis without recourse to Exchequer funding. However, given that these regional State airports were supported under a one-year COVID-19 Regional State Airports Programme in 2021, and temporarily became eligible for supports under the Regional Airports Programme due to supressed passenger numbers during the pandemic (until 2023 for Shannon) the mid-term review also gave consideration to expanding the scope of the Programme to regional airports that handle greater than one million passengers per annum.

While the primary focus of the review was on the performance of the Programme to date, recommendations and proposed actions on foot of this review may contribute to the development of policy on future appropriate and cost-effective support measures for regional airports in Ireland, including the development of any future Programme beyond 2025.

Although having just recently taken up my role at the Department, I can assure the Deputy that I anticipate reaching a conclusion on this review very shortly.

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