Cork Chamber CEO: Real progress must be made by new government

Deep changes must be made and political strength will be required to deliver on the vision set forth in the Programme for Goverenment, so says CEO of Cork Chamber, CONOR HEALY
Cork Chamber CEO: Real progress must be made by new government
Minister for Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport, Eamon Ryan T.D.; Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar and An Taoiseach Micheál Martin arriving at the cabinet meeting in Dublin castle this week. Picture: Julien Behal

AS we move through the phases of reopening the economy and society, we look forward with unwavering optimism, drive and ambition for our city region. Building a more resilient economy will require commitment from all and a Government focus that will deliver sustainable growth.

At the weekend we were delighted to welcome the election of Micheál Martin as Taoiseach. It was not only a historic moment for Cork and Ireland to have Micheál Martin elected as Taoiseach, but also an eagerly anticipated step forward at this crucial crossroads for our country.

We are faced with major challenges with Brexit hurtling towards us and a global pandemic creating unprecedented disruption. In parallel the demand for a new, environmentally conscious, and inclusive Ireland has never been stronger.

A strong leader and dynamic cabinet will be essential to ensure that Ireland not only survives the next few years but sets the bar on economic, environmental and social resilience. Deep changes must be made and political strength will be required to deliver on the vision set forth in the Programme for Government.

Most imminently and obviously for businesses struggling to manage cashflow from day to day, clarity is required on the continuity of the wage subsidy scheme, the deepening and enhancement of the restart grant, and some much needed clarity on the rates waiver, which remains elusive and unhelpful for most. Specific comprehensive intervention is required for tourism which is both our greatest indigenous employer and our sector most chronically vulnerable to this ongoing pandemic.

As ever, there is no shortage of vision or ambition in Cork, but now delivery on the Programme for Government is what matters. Real progress must be made.

The agreement of the Programme for Government provides some welcome reassurance for business. Brexit unfortunately has not gone away, and instead is getting more real by the day. On top of this the ongoing uncertainty regarding COVID-19 business supports is a genuine cause of anxiety for many. We need a strong hand at the table nationally, in Europe and globally at a time when every week counts economically, environmentally and socially.

CEO of Cork Chamber, Conor Healy.
CEO of Cork Chamber, Conor Healy.

The Programme for Government provides a positive outline for an investment led recovery with strong focus on areas such as sustainable transport, infrastructure, urban living, placemaking and competitiveness. No one individual, party or organisation will have found it perfect but we all have a role to play in developing the detail over the coming days, weeks, months and years.

Infrastructure led economic stimulus is akin to us nationally putting our best foot forward. This should remain a priority throughout the crisis as a means to boost recovery and invest in our long-term competitiveness. The Programme creates a framework to accelerate the delivery of the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy, with a welcome and fresh emphasis on cycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and further commitment to Bus Connects and rail. Our long-awaited call for an NTA Cork office has potential ensure that there is sufficient delivery focus.

Investment in greenways, blueways and an outdoor recreation strategy will create an opportunity to broaden our active tourism offer which is essential as an emerging market in the face of Brexit and COVID-19 which are intensely challenging for our traditional overseas markets. It’s an essential part of a much larger required tourism package.

Now is the time to invest more heavily in public and active infrastructure and in Cork Chamber we welcome the move to a 2:1 ratio as a significant statement. It must also however be noted that certain roads projects are essential to regional logistics, to diverting traffic from our towns and cities, and to opening up landbanks such as the Cork docklands for more sustainable high-density development. It is essential that the Dunkettle Interchange is finished, that the M28 is brought to fruition and that the M20 continues. There is a significant deficit resulting from previous austerity measures and this cannot be ignored.

And while the emerging focus on the Land Development Agency to deliver on challenging sites is welcome, it cannot meet the volume of density required on it’s own. The private sector must be enabled to play a leading role, or we will fall far short of the goals of the National Planning Framework and consign ourselves primarily to sprawl. The ad hoc but incessant development of brownfield urban spaces for high density accommodation must enliven developers or the rhetoric around density will remain vapid.

In Cork Chamber, we have called consistently for Government to strongly and overtly support the EU Green Deal and to make it a central pillar of our recovery, to create a better society and to bring credibility to our national sustainability, which is critical to our international reputation and competitiveness. We firmly commend the intent set out in this regard, and ask that Ireland make every conceivable effort to be at the forefront of this vision for Europe.

Over the past two years, Cork businesses have seen great stability in the capital and spatial commitments of Project Ireland 2040, and this was proven by the incredible level of development in our City region. Ongoing commitment to Project Ireland 2040, the government’s long-term strategy for Irelands national and regional development, which included the development of the National Planning Framework, sets out the future development of Ireland in 10-year phases. The current period includes a €116 billion capital investment plan.

Every effort must now be made to sustain confidence by making bold investment decisions that will differentiate Ireland internationally.

There is no shortage of vision and policy for Cork and this Government now has the opportunity to create a visible legacy for all of Cork to see.

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