High hopes as Waterford Airport gets €12m funding boost
TD John Halligan unapologetic about using ‘parish-pump politics’ to fuel revival
Training aircraft at Waterford Airport: Minister for Transport Shane Ross said if he had not approved €5 million capital funding for the airport, it would have been its ‘death knell’.
There was a time during the Celtic Tiger years that every pipedream seemed possible. In Waterford, that translated into plans to transform its regional airport into an international one.
Back in 2008, the then minister for transport Noel Dempsey announced plans to invest €27.5 million of State funds in the airport. It would almost double the length of the runway and build a modern terminal. That would mean that jets such as Boeing 737s and Airbus 320s could be accommodated rather than propeller and turboprop planes.
Within years it was envisaged there would be scheduled flights to Paris, Barcelona and Rome and regular charter flights to Mediterranean resorts. The airport would be capable of handling a million passengers each year.
It was an extremely ambitious plan, but, like other regional airports, Waterford was on an upward trajectory at the time. From humble beginnings in 1981, when the terminal building was a temporary cabin, it grew so much that there was a throughput of 144,000 passengers in 2008.
But after that, its fortunes, like that of the wider economy, went into a tailspin. By the time the last regular scheduled flight left the airport three years ago, passenger numbers had slumped to 13,511 per year. There have been no passenger services since.
Minister for Transport Shane Ross on Friday said if he had not approved €5 million capital funding for the airport, it would have been its “death knell”. There is no doubting that. The question is if, even with the €12 million overall investment, the airport will be feasible.
There’s a motorway connecting Waterford to Dublin, and the road to Cork has also improved. It takes less than two hours to get to either city. The M6 motorway killed off Galway airport. On the face of it, the M9 might force the same fate on Waterford.
There has certainly been a huge local campaign to reopen the airport to passengers. It has been backed by three local authorities – Wexford, Waterford and Kilkenny – which are prepared to stump up €2 million, and a number of large local companies, including Glanbia, Coolmore, Leadmore, Dawn Meats and Stafford Wholesale, have committed €5 million.
Unsurprisingly, there is no political representative in the locality who is iffy about the proposal. There is no greater supporter than Ross’s Independent Alliance colleague John Halligan, who chaperoned the transport Minister during a day-long visit to the airport and city in April.
The announcement has brought with it claims of political clientelism, that Waterford Airport is to Halligan what Stepaside Garda station is to Ross.
Certainly, Halligan has lobbied for his own backyard. He has put a lot of his political stock into the campaign for improved cardiac services in Waterford. He and politicians of all parties in Waterford also have a sense of grievance that the region is being neglected.
Halligan’s last word on the airport on Friday summed up that thinking: “If people want to say it’s parish-pump politics, I don’t care. It’s a big hit for the southeast.”
There’s no doubt there’s a parish-pump element to the decision. That said, just because it’s parish pump does not always mean it is not the right thing to do.