*Clare TD, Michael McNamara. Photograph: Eamon Ward
A CLARE TD has voiced his surprise at a response received by the Taoiseach that electric buses will lead to tourism becoming more sustainable rather than creating a more equal divide of flights across the country’s airports.
Speaking during Leader’s Questions in Dáil Éireann, Michael McNamara TD (IND) referred to comments by the new CEO of Tourism Ireland, Alice Mansergh in The Irish Times. The CEO spoke of ensuring there is value from anyone leaving a carbon footprint in the country plus capacity constraints in Dublin Airport and the accommodation sector.
Deputy McNamara stated, “Increasingly, and for a long period of time, we have had a concentration of all tourists coming into Dublin and being bused for a day to the Cliffs of Moher and back again. Is there any examination of how sustainable that is? Is there any examination of whether there is a very wealthy or not-so-wealthy cohort of people who wish to see, travel to and stay in the west of Ireland, so they are not coming into an overcrowded airport through an overcrowded city to be driven across the country and back again? They might, perhaps, buy a cup of coffee or perhaps not. Perhaps they will go to the toilet and if they do, that is as much as they do”.
Talk of sustainability and sustainable tourism “is nonsense” in the absence of a tourism strategy, he maintained. Refugees and persons seeking asylum account for forty to fifty percent of the hotel beds in Co Clare, the Scariff native claimed. “I am not saying they do not need a bed – they clearly do – but, arguably, if they are to integrate into our economy, they need a bed where they can get a job. There are not a load of jobs in Lisdoonvarna, unfortunately. There are lots of them in Dublin”. He questioned what was the Government’s long-term plan around tourism and its sustainability.
An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar (FG) confirmed that a new national tourism policy is to be published by the Tourism Minister, Catherine Martin (GP) in early 2024. “I will never forget that in the 2011-12 period after the financial crash, three sectors lifted us out of that recession, namely, the multinationals, the agricultural and food sector and also tourism. We owe them a debt of gratitude for that. Tourism has the benefit of being able to create jobs all over the country, in the cities and also in rural areas”.
With the climate crisis, attention must be paid to the impact of international and internal travel, the Taoiseach said. “We have always taken into account both the numbers visiting and also the revenue brought in but people are welcome no matter where they are coming from or how long they stay. On sustainability, we believe busing will become sustainable most quickly. Electric and hydrogen buses already exist. They are already being used and manufactured on the island. I anticipate that in the next ten years, we will see bus transfer becoming very environmentally sustainable. When it comes to aviation, the focus has to be on sustainable aviation fuels. It is early days yet. We want Ireland to be a leader on that. Ireland will always need aviation. It is an island, after all. The focus that we want is a move to sustainable and synthetic aviation fuels so that we can make that sustainable into the future”.
In response, Deputy McNamara admitted that he found the Taoiseach’s answer “somewhat surprising”. He stated, “On the one hand, he says we need to curb international travel and take account of sustainability while, on the other, he wants to lift capacity limits at Dublin Airport. Nowhere has he discussed exploiting capacity at other airports so that people are flown directly into a region that they might stay in, when, one hopes, there is a greater balance in how people are accommodated. These people need accommodation but the State has to match that with what it provides. Instead, the Taoiseach says that this practice is going to be sustainable. We are going to have electric buses bringing them from Dublin Airport down to the west so that they can see Kylemore Abbey, the Cliffs of Moher or whatever it is and back again. Suddenly, that is sustainability”.
No curb on international travel was called for, the Taoiseach clarified. “The Government also has a policy of favouring the regional airports such as Cork, Shannon and Ireland West airports and others. When it comes to Dublin, as the Deputy knows, we take money off Dublin Airport in the form of dividends and other charges. When it comes to the other airports, we provide funding. We provided considerable funding for Cork Airport recently and also for Ireland West Airport and Shannon Airport. It is good that those airports are seeing real passenger growth now. I would like to see a lot more of it. We also need to be honest with people. Airlines decide where they fly. Airlines will make decisions, more often than not, as to whether they fly from Birmingham or Dublin rather than Shannon or Cork, and that is the reality. We need to be honest with people in that regard”.
Speaking to The Clare Echo, Deputy McNamara felt the idea of electric buses being the solution was bizarre. “He seemed to suggest that electric buses are somehow going to be the model for more sustainable tourism. Surely what we need to do is bring a greater proportion of people in Ireland in via our regional airports and particularly into Shannon instead of having tourists come to Dublin and bring them to Shannon. We need them to stay on the west coast of Ireland, clock up less miles so that they have more time enjoying themselves and not driving around”.