Senator Buttimer debates Rural Development in the Seanad
Infrastructure is critical to the development of the regions. The Leader of the Seanad spoke correctly about the fact that Ireland does not end at the border of Dublin or the M50. The Minister lives in a rural area in Galway West and I am from Cork city, although my family is from west Cork and north Cork. Rural Ireland is the lifeblood of our country and, if we are to be serious, we must not stall infrastructure projects under Transport 21. I refer to the western rail corridor, the Cork commuter rail plan.
The major components of Transport 21 are centred around the hub of Dublin. The commuter belts around the rest of the country must be considered in a balanced way. The bus strategy for rural Ireland, involving Bus Éireann, does not inspire confidence. The company has been allocated approximately €23 million to buy 75 replacement buses. That these buses are not new means many communities will not benefit from the investment.
Regional airports are having their investments delayed due to the deterioration in the health of the public finances. This implies that essential infrastructure and equipment upgrades will not take place. This morning the director of Ireland West Airport Knock, Liam Scollan, said the airport tax introduced in the budget will devastate the airport. According to The Irish Times, he stated a reduction of between 5% and 10% in passenger numbers into Knock “would result in a loss of between €5.2 million and €10.5 million in tourism revenue to the region — far more than the revenue collected”. Today Aer Lingus spoke about a €30 million hit as a consequence of the tax. On one level we are announcing massive plans while, on another, we are making cuts. Is it a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul?
I hope we might see enterprise hubs in each county. Deputy Leo Varadkar, the Fine Gael spokesperson on enterprise, trade and employment, has pointed out that energy projects, microenterprises, centres of specialist food production and sustainable tourism projects deserve to be supported. We have an obligation to look after rural Ireland and it should not be seen as isolated and detached from the rest of society. It requires a level of investment that will bring major benefit to the country at large.