By Elaine Loughlin, Political Correspondent
Update 3.55pm: The Taoiseach has defended the construction of a new runway at Dublin Airport claiming the concerns of locals had to be weighed against national benefits.
Turning the sod on the new north runway, Mr Varadkar said the project will allow the airport to continue to expand "generating jobs and wealth and growth for the entire country".
A small group of protestors gathered at the entrance to the site as Mr Varadkar and Transport Minister Shane Ross officially broke ground on the project which will be completed by March 2021.
The €320m runway will be entirely funded from Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) profits and will ease pressure on the existing airport which currently sees 30 million passengers pass through it each year.
Mr Varadkar denied that the Government have ignored local concerns over noise and flight frequency.
"We totally understand the concerns that residents have in relation to the value of their property and also in relation to noise abatement," the Taoiseach said.
However, he said with all major projects local concerns must be balanced with the positive impact any investment would have on the entire country.
Mr Ross said it would be "absolutely wrong" to say local residents have not been consulted or listened to.
"I have met numerous delegations from the residents in recent times and those concerns have been taken on board," said Mr Ross.
Mr Ross also said a noise regular would be appointed.
Update 2.05pm: Residents who live next to the site of Dublin Airport’s new runway have accused the Government of ignoring their concerns over noise levels.
A crowd of protesters gathered at the sod-turning ceremony performed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Transport Shane Ross.
The residents criticised legislation which allows Fingal County Council to act as the noise regulator, claiming is a “conflict of interest”.
Legislation to establish the independent noise regulator was passed by the Dail on Wednesday night.
Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) has put forward an application to amend a rule that limits night-time flights to 60.
The Government has said the 3.1km runway will generate €2.2bn in economic activity by 2043.
Construction will take around two years and it is expected to be opened by 2021.
“Dublin Airport is our main gateway to the world & is crucial for Irish Tourism, business & trade,” the Taoiseach said. Minister Ross said the new runway was “strategically important for the entire country” & needed to be delivered as quickly as possible. Construction will 2/3 pic.twitter.com/9xnpjfIG5T— Dublin Airport (@DublinAirport) February 14, 2019
Sheelagh Morris, who lives in St Margaret’s, a village in the shadow of Dublin Airport, claimed residents’ homes are at risk.
“DAA are now going to have the night-time restrictions overturned which is going to have a massive impact on our homes,” she said.
“Our homes will be deemed worthless, we won’t be able to live here. The noise regulation bill is supposed to protect us.
“We are going to be subjected to 80/90 decibels of noise in the daytime and the night-time if these conditions are removed.
“DAA are maintaining they must remove those restrictions in order to have their night flights.”
The DAA offered residents a voluntary buyout scheme for 30% above market price.
Ms Morris said the offer was “not fit for purpose”.
She added: “They are saying we are insignificant, but we matter. We have been here for three generations.
“We are very concerned and have had no say or control.”
Speaking at the sod-turning ceremony, Mr Varadkar denied the Government has ignored residents’ concerns.
He said: “I represent Dublin West constituency and a large part of it is under the flight path and there has been a lot of engagement between the DAA and residents and between residents and politicians.
“We understand the concerns the residents have in relation to the value of their properties and to noise abatement, so there is a plan in place to purchase homes if people are willing to sell, if they want to relocate.
“For a lot of other homes the DAA will pay for insulation and pay for improvements to those homes so the impact on people is mitigated.”
Mr Ross said: “It would be absolutely wrong to say they have been ignored. We are very aware of their concerns and I have met numerous delegations in recent times and those concerns have been taken on board.
“Measures have been taken to meet those concerns. The noise regulator is going to have a balanced approach and that means taking into account, not just the commercial demands, but also the difficulties and problems encountered by residents.”
The Taoiseach said Dublin Airport is crucial for Irish tourism, business and trade.
“This new runway is part of the Government’s €116bn Project Ireland 2040 plan to modernise our infrastructure, remove bottlenecks and enable future growth,” he said.
“Connectivity is one of the principles behind Project Ireland, linking Ireland to the world and all parts of Ireland to each other.”
- Press Association