He has become the lightning rod for criticism, the easy mark, the whipping boy — whatever you want to call it — for the Government, but Eamon Ryan shrugs his shoulders.
Critics say he is aloof, out of touch, and too professorial and lofty in his public utterances; his supporters and many environmental and climate change activists view him as a politician who is not afraid to tell the unvarnished truth that change is coming.
However, does the environment, climate, and transport minister see himself as out of touch, especially with those outside of urban areas, in the heart of rural Ireland?
“For all the personal criticism, you’d be surprised when you go out around the country at how supportive people are. Irish people are by and large decent.
While Ress dealt with onshore wind, offshore will be “transformative” over the coming years, Mr Ryan said.
There is also the second phase, which will see Munster becoming one of the most crucial locations in the renewable energy revolution, Mr Ryan said.
Shannon Airport could become a leading global guinea pig for the aviation industry’s move to less carbon-intensive fuel, with talks between the US and Irish governments taking place to use it as an experimental base for US airlines.
Eamon Ryan said that as aviation tried to figure out how to reduce emissions, experimenting with less harmful fuels would be key and he volunteered Shannon as a “perfect” airport to do so.
When asked by thewhy aviation was conspicuously left out of the five-year carbon budgets, Mr Ryan said it was an international issue to be resolved rather than a domestic one.
Environmental campaigners and scientists have criticised the lack of detail around how to reduce emissions in aviation, which were estimated to be about 2.5% globally in the years before the pandemic struck.
Carbon budgets were announced in October 2020 and unveiled last October. They include all greenhouse gases in each five-year cycle and will allocate emissions ceilings to the likes of motorists, households, farmers, businesses, and industry. However, aviation and shipping were not included.
“Aviation is out of the carbon budgets. It’s in a different category because it is international because by definition it is shared by two countries at least,” said Mr Ryan.
“I think the main approach in aviation is coming from the EU, the Fit for 55 package. In the coming weeks, there will be a meeting of the transport council in Brussels and a lot of these issues are now coming to fruition.”
There are opportunities in the likes of Shannon Airport that Ireland could turn to an advantage if the move to so-called “cleaner” aviation fuels emerged, he said.
“I was in Washington DC for St Patrick’s Day and met the transport secretary, Pete Buttigieg, and asked him could we — if both governments are looking at sustainable aviation, switching away from the current aviation system — look at using sustainable fuels, probably biofuels at first, but then moving to the expected synthetic fuels.
“We would look and see if the possibility of Shannon being a kind of test location, because it has always been that. Shannon, when it comes to lower emissions, has one of the longest runways, so you can take a heavier payload and then you can reduce the emissions that way.
“It has a legacy infrastructure that the Russians actually built, where we have fuel storage tanks under the apron in the airport, with the jetty in the Shannon Estuary, so that the oil fuels can be shipped in and pumped directly into the storage facilities right under the airport.
“What I’m saying, working with the management and board in Shannon, is could we turn that to our advantage and say to the Americans, if we are doing zero-carbon transatlantic flights and you want a matching air field on the European side that will make sure it has the sustainable fuels available, then we think Shannon could be that airport.
“He was absolutely interested. Shannon Airport is working on putting specific proposals together. The advantage of it is that you are starting to be part of the transition to a better system. I bet there would be a demand among people on that route to have a zero-carbon option. Where do we want to be on that? Up front and part of it? I’m absolutely certain that we do and I think Shannon is perfectly well placed for it.”
“There is a tricky decision for the Government to be made. It has to decide which one it wants to give priority to because it is unlikely that they’ll be able to be done together. We are going in the wrong direction and unfortunately we are going in the wrong direction quickly.”