I am delighted to be to here today on the occasion of the official opening of the new terminal building.
Over the years there has been a very good partnership between my Department and the airport in encouraging the development of Ireland West Airport Knock. The enthusiasm and drive of the previous and current boards and the airport management are well recognised. Without that initiative the airport would have not made significant strides in building the healthy passenger base and diverse range of services, which it now enjoys.
The airport rightly sees itself as a vital piece of infrastructure for the social and economic development of the west and northwest.
As a result of Government investment of €9.4m since 2006, the airport have been able to proceed with a number of important projects including the terminal extension that we are celebrating her today. In addition the investment made has lead to improved safety and security systems and enhancements to the instrument landing system and a runway upgrade. Passengers will have more comfort in the extended terminal and services will be more reliable as a result of reduced diversions caused previously by poor weather and low visibility.
In the area of transport capital expenditure, I want to maintain investment insofar as practicable in the current circumstances.
At the same time, we have to be realistic and prioritise. In pursuing our transport investment strategy, we are acutely conscious of the need to promote balanced development across the whole of Ireland. In Transport 21 have set out national objectives which are:
- to create a high quality, efficient national road and rail network consistent with the objectives of the National Spatial Strategy;
- to provide for a significant increase in public transport use in regional cities;
- to strengthen national, regional and local public transport services;
- and to enhance safety and security facilities at the regional airports.
As we now know, Transport 21 was drawn up towards the end of the boom. However, that does not change our overall goals. We still need to improve our infrastructure if we are to strengthen our competitiveness and promote a return to economic growth; and we still need to address the regional imbalance in our infrastructure and our economic development.
For the time being, we have to do this in the context of scarcer resources than we anticipated when Transport 21 was launched. To do this, we have the task of identifying priorities. My Government colleagues and I are giving our attention to those priorities in finalising the capital expenditure budget for 2010.
Under the Transport 21 umbrella the Government approved in February 2007 an €86m programme of grant aid for specific projects at the six regional airports up to the end of 2010. Unfortunately because of the current difficulties with the public finances, there has had to be a deferral of the full implementation of the programme. Meanwhile, my Department are working with the regional airports on the funding of committed investment under the original programme and this will continue into 2010.
We all admire the ambition and energy of the airport in performing a unique role in this region by reaching out to its catchment area and population base.
I know that that the airport are pursuing the creation of a western regional enterprise and innovation hub based on a 65 acre site adjacent to the airport. I wish them well in these efforts.
So far the airport has done much for the region. All airports and the aviation sector as a whole are struggling with the impact of the international recession but I have no doubt this airport is well positioned to benefit from the recovery when it comes. With the help of recent investment in its facilities the airport will act as a catalyst for economic and tourism growth for the foreseeable future.
The new terminal, which I have the honour to officially open today, is a tangible product of the dreams and achievement that have characterised the airport and its rapid traffic growth in recent years. Í am sure that that your ambition will continue to bear fruit in success for the airport and the region in the years ahead. You can be assured that my Department will play its part in supporting the airport in line with Government approved investment and to the extent that our public finances permit us to do so.