MINISTER for Transport Eamon Ryan faced questions on a range of issues when he met Clare county councillors on last week’s visit.
Topics like the future of farming, limits on development in Clare and the impact of increased carbon levies were all on the agenda.
While the Green Party have some support in Clare there is no doubt there is also a large degree of animosity towards them, and that was reflected in much of what was said by the councillors.
However there was also a large degree of respect towards Ryan for coming to Clare to engage with them, and for the fact that he stood by his views even though many of those he was addressing disagreed with him.
Mr Ryan told the meeting that the scale and speed of the change required to deal with climate change is “beyond compare”.
He also said that he believes a consensus must be built, if it is to be effective.
“It won’t work if it’s a divisive issue,” he warned.
The Minister compared the change required to the adjustment to Irish economic policy in the second half of the 20th century.
“There was a similar transition in the past, in the 1950s, when we went from a closed to an open economy,” he claimed.
Mr Ryan said that it is important that shame not be used as a means of trying to force an adjustment in behaviour, while he said that there needs to be real listening.
“We need to start by asking people for help, not telling people what to do.”
Reeling off a list of places in Clare including Tulla, Feakle, Scariff, Lahinch and Kilrush, the Minister said that there is now “a need to put life back in the centres of towns and villages”.
He also praised farmers for their guardianship of the land, and said that it is essential they are better rewarded.
“What do we need to get a new generation of young people to work on the land? We have to pay them.”
He said that farmers must receive better returns from retailers and large processors. While he said that advice over the last 50 years has been to drain land, in the future it will be to re-wet it, in the interests of biodiversity and reducing the impact of carbon emissions.
In relation to energy, Minister Ryan said that “the potential of Clare is huge”.
He said that Moneypoint will “go green” and added that the departure of Equinor “is not the end of this story. It is going to happen”.
In that respect, he said, the presence of deep water, a jetty and a grid connection are great advantages.
The Minister said that a “green new world is emerging” and that this is a good fit for Co. Clare.
Meanwhile Minister Ryan told the Champion that Shannon Airport will be given some degree of ongoing support if it doesn’t bounce back quickly.
Passenger numbers collapsed at all airports during the crisis, but it’s likely it will take the smaller airports longest to recover. Minister Ryan said that its recovery is important.
“We’ve provided huge support through the Covid crisis because we do need balanced regional development. We need the Clare and Limerick region to thrive. There was a lot of direct support for the airport and also for the airlines.
“Hopefully the numbers will come back up, if that happens the supports will be pulled back because they have been done on an emergency basis. But if the numbers don’t, the regional supports we’ve given will still be there.”
He suggested that Shannon become a centre for environmentally friendly travel.
“We have a new chair, very good board and management. I think the real job is to think strategically. We want Shannon to be a real success and that can’t just be on the back of supports.
“It’s difficult, a lot of people are flying out of Dublin Airport and I’m looking forward to meeting the management and some of the board today, to get their views and give my sense of it.
“I think there are real advantages, being the furthest western airport in Europe, those historic ties and connections to the US. How do we optimise those?
“I think part of that could be the green agenda, could we develop Shannon as a really low carbon airport option? Could we put in alternative fuels or look at it being a test place for developing lower emissions flights? I’m just really at the concept phase, talking to the airport to see what their views are and how could we make that happen.”
As he met with members of the County Council, several of them voiced concerns about the poor performance of Shannon in recent times, stressing its importance to the region.
“There are thousands of people working in Shannon, they all depend on the airport. Clare, Limerick, Tipperary and Galway all depend upon it, it’s the lifeblood of the Mid-West,” said Councillor John Crowe.
Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council PJ Ryan said it made little sense to have 30 million travelling through an airport on the east coast, when there is so little use of Shannon made, while he said adjusting aviation policy could make a significant difference to the fortunes of the Clare airport.
Later in the day the Minister met with Shannon Group CEO Mary Considine and its chairman Padraig Ó Céidigh.
Speaking afterwards, Ms Considine said, “We had productive discussions with Minister Ryan on decarbonisation, and as a recent signatory to the Toulouse Declaration pledge towards net zero carbon by 2050, we are committed to exploring all opportunities to advance this goal.
“The Minister’s visit gave us an opportunity to show him the significant capital projects we were able to undertake as a result of Government support.
“In addition, we welcomed the opportunity to brief the Minister on our recovery and rebuilding plans for the airport and across our campus following the devastation left in the wake of the pandemic.”
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.