Politicians opposed to banning non-essential internal flights

Green Party in Kerry favours reducing the cost of rail travel to help compete with cheap flights

Politicians have expressed opposition to banning non-essential internal flights in the wake of a study that shows a majority of under 24-year-olds favour the move.

The importance of the flights for connectivity, for accessing medical care and to the economy in the regions were given as some of the reasons as to why they should continue.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found that more than 90 per cent of Irish people between the ages of 16 and 24 are concerned about the environment.

Some 57 per cent are in favour of banning non-essential domestic flights and the same proportion want to implement car-free zones in towns and city centres.

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Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, who represents Donegal, a county which has a regional airport with flights to Dublin, said the routes were important and “should continue”.

Mr McConalogue said there are changing attitudes across society in general – not just among young people – on the importance of sustainability and climate action but internal flights are an important part of transport provision around the country.

The Fianna Fáil TD said he would like to see the expediting of the A5 road project working with authorities in Northern Ireland which would “make a massive difference” for people in Donegal.

Mr McConalogue said the Government’s objective is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all aspects of life but it has to be done in a balanced way.

Former Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, who was in Dublin for a press conference on women in farming, said she takes flights from Donegal.

She said students and “more importantly” people who suffer from cancer and need medical treatment in Dublin rely on internal flights.

Ms Coughlan said of the survey results: “Perhaps when things come to your own home you might have a different attitude.”

Kerry Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae said Farranfore Airport is of “paramount importance” for the economy, jobs and transport in his own home county.

“If you look at other regional airports like Mayo, above in Donegal, above in Belfast all the different small airports that we have around the country, we need that interconnectivity,” he said.

He said the flights also enable onward travel “to the heart of Europe”.

Mr Healy-Rae said: “For anybody to be saying ‘this is wrong and we shouldn’t have small regional airports and that we shouldn’t have a dependence on cars’, what are we all going to do, turn back the clock 50 years or 100 years and live in our own small communities? I mean that’s not right.”

He said that approach would “plunge our economy back decades and we can’t allow that and we can’t even entertain it”.

Green Party Minister of State Pippa Hackett said “connectivity is crucial really in Ireland” and she did not think her party would call for a ban on non-essential internal flights.

She said there is an ambition to open up railway lines to the northwest but played down the prospect of a flights ban in the absence of “an alternative way of getting people swiftly and safely from Donegal to Dublin or other parts of the country”.

In Kerry, local Green Party activists have said in the past that the success of the airport is down to cheaper fares since Ryanair took over routes. It costs €19.99 each way to travel from Kerry to Dublin, far cheaper than a train from Farranfore or Killarney to Dublin.

Diarmaid Griffin, Killarney’s Green representative, said while he “definitely in support of air external links”, he would like to see trains becoming cheaper to make them more appealing, especially for tourists.

Mr Griffin believes the 20 per cent reduction in fares on railways do not go far enough for a county like Kerry. “In the long run the costs to the environment are far higher,” he said. “I am surprised by how cheap the flights to Dublin are. We need connectivity. Rail has been in Killarney since before the visit of Queen Victoria. It has been neglected down through the years.”

Kathleen O’Regan-Sheppard, a director of Kerry Airport, said air travel connectivity to Dublin is “vital”.

“We are so remote, we need direct speedy connection with Dublin,” she said.

People on business tourism, travelling for conferences and events did not want to waste time on trains. “The train is still three hours and more,” Ms O’Regan-Sheppard said.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times