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By Fr Sean McDonagh

In 2024, Ireland is being asked by several individuals and corporations to choose between opting for economic growth or sustainable development.[1]  Like every other country in the world, Ireland is attempting to deal with serious climate change which threatens to collapse the Gulf Stream and push Ireland and Northern Europe back into an Ice Age within a hundred years.

In 2023, extreme weather was experienced in many parts of the world.  Wildfires raged in Greece, Spain, and southern Italy. Wind and floods hit parts of Germany, France, and northern Italy. [2]

It is estimated that aviation is responsible for between 2 and 3 percent of global carbon emissions.  In 2019, the global aviation sector consumed around 95 billion gallons of fuel.[3] According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) humans have a mere 26 years in which to wean all transport of fossil fuel so that we can keep the future warming of the planet  to a mere 1.5 degrees Celsius.  

In 2023, a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 flew from London to New York using only sustainable aviation fuel which is made from tallow, other waste fats and planet sugars. Even so, long-term solutions in terms of using electric or hydrogen for our planes remain decades away.[4]

In this wider context, those who support the expansion of Dublin airport from the present cap of 32 million people annually to 40 million are opting for economic growth rather than sustainable living.  The 8 million extra people each year will increase the airport’s emissions by 22 per cent.[5] The historian and Irish Times author, Diarmaid Ferriter, puts it bluntly in his column in the Irish Times on February 18th, 2024, entitled It’s not the economy, stupid.   The reality is that climate change is now the most important issue in the 21st century and we now know catastrophic extreme weather can be across the globe.                                                                                                                          Environmental campaigners opposed to the move argue that increasing emissions from a sector like aviation will make a nonsense of Ireland’s climate change promises.  Unfortunately, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, despite opposition from the cabinet, backed the proposal to increase the cap on Dublin airport as it is the ‘the main gateway to Ireland.’[6] Pascal Donohoe, Minister for Public Expenditure, is also supportive of lifting the cap on Dublin Airport. One wonders has either of them read the report from the Irish Environment Agency which states that Ireland will miss its 2030 targets by a significant margin.

But the pressure on Fingal County Council to agree to raise the cap to 40 million customers is now enormous.  Many passenger and cargo airlines such as United, Delta, FedEx, British Airlines and Aer Lingus are threatening to pull out of Dublin airport, unless Fingal County Council increases, the cap.   Ryanair, the largest airline using Dublin airport, says it intends to grow their passenger numbers by 76 percent over the next 10 years and that Dublin would have to expand to share in that growth. [7] Michael O Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair has described the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan as an ‘idiot’ and ‘incompetent’ and has called for his resignation.[8] 

On top of those personal insults, U.S corporations such as Google, Microsoft and Apple are also pushing for the 40 million cap at the airport. These companies pay one third of Ireland’s corporation taxes. According to them “failure to cater for US-Ireland passenger demands will have a significant impact on the Irish economy.”[9] Such pressure on Fingal County Council is colossal. They need much support from ordinary citizens whose grandchildren will have to live in a very different Ireland.

[1] Caroline O’Doherty, It’s grow or watch us go, airlines warn council as Dublin Airport future faces defining decision, Irish Independent, February 18th 2024, page 4 and 5.

[2] Kevin, O’Sullivan, A week of climate hell that exposed the planet’s increasing vulnerability, The Irish Times, July 29th, 2023, page 9.

[3] Neil Briscoe, The challenges of taking flight in a zero-emissions world, The Irish Times, August 26th 2021.     Page 16.

[4] Hannah Murdock, Fossil fuel-free flight crosses Atlantic Ocean for first time ever, Desert News, November 29th, 2023.


[5] Diarmaid Ferriter, It’s not the economy, stupid. Climate Change is the only issue now, The Irish Times, February 18th, 2024, page 10.

[6] Varadkar back plans to increase Dublin Airport cap despite Cabinet opposition, The Irish Independent February 2, 2024. /irish-news/Varadkar-back-plans-to-increase-dublin-airport-cap-despite-cabinet-opposition/a1603656364

[7] Caroline O’Doherty, op.cit. page 5.

[8] Varadkar, op.cit.

[9] Caroline, op.cit page 4. 



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