Killarney’s Tom Randles and the Tralee Chamber Alliance have tackled the Irish Times business position last weekend that it is time for Kerry Airport to “fly solo”. Propped up with Government grants, the “village” airport stands as “peculiar example of the Republic’s sub-standard ability to plan good transport solutions for its citizens,” is the Irish Times’ view

The country is paying to subvent an airport for a village of 84 and a passenger load of a quarter of the 1.2 million that makes any airport near viable, the Irish Times Cantillon column stated.

As Kerry Airport approaches its 50th anniversary, it is time to let it go on a wing or a prayer as it is “a drain on finances,” is the consensus of the column, a column inspired by the French-Irish man regarded as the father of economic writing, Richard Cantillon (born in Kerry by the way).

Dublin is being held up as an example of a busy airport. But there is no mention of the fact that Dublin Airport has among the worst records in Europe this summer in terms of flight delays. Dublin is overloaded and as this column has argued before, the Dublin load should be spread around, not least to Cork where buses depart the city on the hour for Dublin Airport. There is a lobby now for a second and maybe a third runway for Dublin!

Kerry Airport is, of course, a triumph of spirit over reason: most achievements in the human sphere are. (It is necessary increasingly to say “human sphere” because the species has increasingly to compete with dogs/animals on the one side, and robots on the other.) But it is particularly dispiriting to see the Kerry Airport project attacked by the Dublin establishment, of which the Irish Times is the respected voice.

Certainly, faced with “economic reason” (is there any other kind these days?) Kerry does not “need” an airport. It has already a heavily subsidised rail and bus link, this is true.

Generations of TDs and ministers, as I have pointed out before, have failed us spectacularly in Kerry with regard to road links. It is belittling, and surely must be embarrassing for anyone involved in national politics, to see how long it is taking to get two basic bypasses for Kerry in Adare and Macroom when what is needed are motorway links to Tralee and Killarney.

When you think about it, there are more rural than city TDs in the Dáil, yet they have failed again and again to cross party lines and come together and come up with proper infrastructure for south and west Munster. In their failure they have allowed Dublin to eat up the rest of the country. This is the real failure of the Dáil: the failure of the rural TDs to adopt a common strategy so the rest of the country can prosper.

The truth is that the country properly planned “needs” only one airport and that  would be in Athlone smack in the centre with high speed rail and road links. That is not going to happen.

But what is entirely glossed over by everyone are the real reasons that inspired Kerry Airport and I turn to the introduction by airport chairman Denis Cregan to Donal Hickey’s 2009 book Kerry in the Jet Age, where the founders are rightly called “visionaries”.

“One of the many motivating factors for the building of the airport was the need to create access to Kerry for many people who emigrated for economic purposes. In the early years of the airport project, the visionaries would have been very familiar with the writings of John Healy, his championing of rural Ireland and his book Nobody Shouted Stop.”

The social reason was one, the industrial development of the region was another, Cregan says, giving full credit by the way to politicians for the grants for the airport.

But I would suggest there is an overwhelming third reason: Kerry needs increasingly not just to be connected to Dublin, which has failed it, but directly to Europe and North America, so it can bypass Dublin.

Unfortunately, the Dublin-centric view only sees the road to Dublin, and the need to connect with Dublin. Kerry in its increasing reliance on tourism and hopefully foreign investment has at least as great a need to be nearer Berlin and probably Boston these days.

And on this note, the Cantillon column might need to reflect on that key correspondence through history and before the foundation of this State, between Kerry and Europe, whether it is via Daniel O’Connell or Richard Cantillon. Like O’Connell, who was educated in France, Cantillon emigrated to France, not Dublin, and it was there he developed his economic theories.

Dublin has had plenty of time to give Kerry opportunities and a fighting chance over the past 100 years. It has failed to do so. It is time now for Kerry to fly solo in a real sense and time to recognise the reason for the need of the airport is not just economic need.

As Tralee Chamber Alliance argues, it is more, not less, investment that is needed for Kerry, “an airport  with direct flights to seven destinations: London Luton, London Stansted, Frankfurt-Hahn, Berlin Schönefeld SXF, Alicante and Faro (summer) with Ryanair, and to Dublin with Aer Lingus Regional offering connections to the United States and Middle East.”

 

 

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