| 15.4°C Dublin

High winds could prevent air travel

ONE of the country's busiest roads could be shut down today if high winds prevent US President Barack Obama from flying to his 'ancestral' home in Offaly.

Met Eireann last night predicted winds gusting up to 100kmh would hit the midlands, meaning the presidential helicopter Marine One might not be able to travel and Mr Obama could be forced to make the trip by road.

If Mr Obama is forced to travel in the presidential motorcade -- which has up to a dozen vehicles, including a communications truck, security vehicles and an ambulance -- gardai would be forced to impose restrictions on the main Dublin to Limerick road, the M7, resulting in severe disruption to thousands of motorists.

Flying time from Dublin to Moneygall is about 25 minutes, but the 140km trip takes about 90 minutes to drive.

Mr Obama is due to arrive in Moneygall at about 3pm today and is expected to stay for up to an hour.

A no-fly zone has been put in place from 12.30pm, meaning aircraft are not allowed in the area from that time.

However, Mr Obama is not due back to Dublin until 6pm to make a public address on College Green, meaning his schedule is flexible.

Aviation experts last night said wind speeds would have to be extreme to ground Marine One.


Search and rescue helicopters operated by the Irish Coastguard can fly in winds of up to 130kmh, but the military helicopter used to transport Mr Obama will be more advanced.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said last night that "every possible change" had been taken into account during the painstaking planning of the trip.

"There are back-up plans. There's plan A, plan B and plan C," a spokeswoman said.

"If it is by road it would be speedy, but not as speedy as if by air. There's flexibility in the schedule, though."

Met Eireann forecaster Pat Clarke warned people attending Mr Obama's public address on College Green this evening to wrap up warm and take a raincoat.

"It's very inclement weather," he said. "It will be a very windy, blustery day, with showers from time to time."