AFTER a one-year hiatus, Cork Chamber, the voice of business in Cork, held its annual dinner in 2022.
The event was attended by 950 business leaders, political decision-makers and stakeholders with guest of honour, An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin TD. Sponsored by Keary’s Motor Group, the event allowed all to reassemble, reengage and make new connections, while also celebrating the successes of the business community.
Speaking at the event, President of Cork Chamber, Paula Cogan spoke passionately on the coming together of communities, the mobilising of business support and resilience in the face of the pandemic, and how we must now harness that same determination and resolve to tackle the next global crises – “a war on European soil, the ticking bomb that is climate crisis and, closer to home, a redefinition of what we want the Irish state to stand for, not just for our current citizens but for those who look to us as a place of refuge and an opportunity for a better future just as millions of Irishmen and women who left our shores did for centuries.”
Ms Cogan continued: “In 2020 I called upon Cork to seek recognition as European Green Capital. We applaud Cork City Council for taking the lead and Cork has now been selected as one of the 100 net Zero cities that have committed to carbon neutrality by 2030.
“This target cannot be delivered without the support of every single person and organisation in this room tonight. The ball has now been thrown in and now it is up to us all to run with it.”
Achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 will be a huge undertaking and will require the collective approach that has been so essential in moving through the pandemic successfully.
Admitting that a strong policy framework is in place to allow our city region to achieve this target, Ms Cogan noted that focusing on delivery and removing roadblocks is essential.
“All emphasis must be on delivery of existing and new policies such as Ireland 2040, the NDP, CMATS, new City and County Development Plans, Repower EU, and the Green Deal. Every organisation of the state must ensure that all projects that impact positively on this initiative are fast-tracked and resourced.
“A recent OECD Covid 19 global recovery survey which benchmarks Inclusivity, climate action, economy and resilience saw Ireland exceed in the majority. However, when climate action indicators are reviewed, we are one of the lowest performers in all OECD countries.
“Tonight, we call on our government representatives to put Ireland on an emergency footing to deal with the climate crisis just as was delivered so successfully on behalf of the Irish people for Covid 19.
“We have learned much from the pandemic crisis and the sustained urgency of delivery on government commitments two years on from agreement of the Programme for Government must now become a priority as its implementation will drive the climate agenda for Cork and for Ireland.
“However, it is still the case that no significant apartment delivery is underway in the city. Milestones and policy interventions are required for the Docklands, or the urban living dream will flounder dangerously. Cork has set itself apart nationally by delivering multiple inspiring public realm projects.
“But we can’t clap ourselves on the back for delivering new cycle and pedestrian infrastructure when so much more is required to get to a basic European standard. Bus Connects must move from talking to action and the route for the light rail must be dedicated to buses as an interim step.
“We need more park and rides and the existing ones must be connected to the city by a dedicated corridor. Morrisons Island must progress. The M28 must turn a sod by 2024. The M20 must continue to progress with pace.”
To realise our city and nation’s potential, to allow for timely delivery of projects, and to facilitate the prioritising of development that will enhance the sustainability of our region, a new, fit-for-purpose planning system is essential.
“Let’s face facts,” Ms Cogan said “Our planning system is broken. It needs to be fixed now. We must look to isolate and resolve any process that obstructs, delays, or frustrates progress.
“In our local authority planning, Bord Pleanála, the courts, and our licencing, and regulatory systems there must be more resources and binding timelines. Is it appropriate for investors to be delayed in planning and to then wait years for court-based challenges to be heard and decided on? In a climate, housing, and energy security crisis the answer is No.”
Ms Cogan also spoke on some of the issues relating to talent attraction for the business community. Population projections would see up to 380,000 additional people in the Southern Region and Cork will be home for 60% of these. Cork will also host 135,000 new jobs. To meet this ambition, the diversity and the attractiveness of our region will be key.
Ms Cogan noted: “This year, the intensity of competition for talent has spilled over into an overt priority for the Cork business community. It is the problem of an economy that is doing well, and this is a hugely positive place to be in. But it is also the problem of an economy that could be stunted if not resolved.
“We believe that a solution will be reached in three ways - by delivering on housing targets and quality of life infrastructure; by building, through action, a reputation as a sustainable, vibrant city region; and by being overtly welcoming and pro-diversity.
“Across the world, cities like Cork that deliver on these actions will act as a magnet and thrive. Be in no doubt we are in a global competition. However, to be successful protracted processes need to be simplified.
“Alongside quality-of-life factors a pro-diversity society must also be strongly anti-racist. Ireland is one of the only countries in the EU which does not currently have legislation establishing bias motivation as an aggravating circumstance of a crime. Considering the relatively progressive nature of Irish society, hate crime legislation must be approved with pace.
“For Ireland to become a more diverse, equal, and inclusive society, everyone must feel welcome, safe, heard, and valued.
“As I address you tonight and look around the room, we ask the question as to whether the business community of Cork appropriately reflects the diversity of gender, race, religion, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, education, and most importantly thought. Cork Chamber intends to lead out with the support of you, our members, who no doubt are proactively planning for such conversations and if not need to be. We know our employees of the future demand an inclusive society not just in individual workplaces but collectively and Cork Chamber will continue to advocate for change.
“Commendation is due to all leaders in Government, business, and communities for steering such a robust course during the pandemic. In many ways, it highlighted what we are capable of with focus and resolve.
“But there can be absolutely no excuse for any complacency in the delivery of what is required to secure our environment, our way of life, and our economic continuity over the years ahead. It is essential that the commitments of both Government and the private sector come to fruition.
“Cork has never lacked ambition. Communities thankfully continue to evolve. Democracy must be cherished, and tyranny must be opposed. Ideals must be fought for. Cork must value what it has and push for what is right.
“It seems fitting in this historic sports ground of Pairc Uí Chaoimh which embodies the spirit of meitheal to its core, to quote our President Michael D Higgins as he addressed a victorious Cork camogie team.
“Leadership, working as a team, and respect for others are important themes of Gaelic Games and indeed of all sports, and these are qualities that translate right across into community, work, and everyday life regardless of where you live. All of you know only too well how tight the margins are between winning and losing, at the level of competing in excellence, how much courage it takes to face up to those margins, to accept the risks, to commit to the ethic of completing and accepting the outcome whatever it is.
“As community members, and as business leaders, now is the time to be vocal, restless, and energised.”