Business leaders in Waterford have hit back at criticism over the Government's plan to invest €5m in the region's airport.
Economist Jim Power said it was 'astounding' that the €5m funding for the airport, which has been without commercial flights since mid-2016, was attracting such scrutiny, while WIT strategic management lecturer Ray Griffin said the airport was "just one element of a sorely-needed investment programme in the south-east".
Transport Minister Shane Ross has come under intense political pressure to justify the €5m funding in recent days, after it was revealed Department of Public Expenditure officials had advised against it.
Glanbia, Coolmore Stud, Dawn Meats, as well as other investors are being asked to put up €5m to help extend the runway at Waterford Airport, with Government stumping up a further €5m, and local authorities in Waterford, Kilkenny, and Wexford investing €2m.
The runway, when extended from its existing length of 1,433 metres to 2,280 metres, will be able to accommodate large commercial passenger aircraft such as Boeing 737s and Airbus 320s, the department said.
Waterford Airport has had no commercial flights since the middle of 2016. Proposed Waterford routes to Luton, Birmingham, and Manchester by Aer Southeast, announced in 2017, failed to materialise.
Waterford Airport was of the view that a runway extension was essential and EY was appointed to carry out an assessment into the airport's future.
Mr Power said some of the commentary showed "immense ignorance of the real issues".
"I am astounded by the response. The development of a longer runway is essential if the airport is to attract commercial flights. Private business and local councils are prepared to put their money on the table, there is a strong local business need and given the investment in tourism infrastructure such as the Greenway and Waterford Crystal, access to the region and connectivity are essential.
Mr Griffin said major investors like Glanbia had seen a "strategic necessity" for the upgrade.
"Whilst the south-east is growing again, it contracted in 2017. With the deteriorating international situation, and central banks across the world preparing for the worst, the recovery and boom will have entirely passed the region by. The Government funding is at the lower end of risk profile for capital return in strategic investments, not least because private equity is taking the front end risk.
"One has to look at the other investors and understand their motives to see why this is such a great deal for the state. Glanbia and Dawn, which has made a billion burgers for McDonalds, are not suddenly diversifying into airports, rather the see the strategic necessity of better connections to support their businesses.
"They cannot get their staff safely in and out of London in one day, and commonly have to ask their people to rise at 3am to make an 8am flight in Dublin Airport. When the IDA is prevailed on to account for their weak outrun in the south-east, with around half the number of IDA supported jobs of equivalent regions, they always mention the relative isolation."
This story was amended on 19/06/19