Cork Chamber: Our 2022 wish-list for Cork

President of Cork Chamber Paula Cogan looks ahead to 2022, outlining opportunities for Cork to excel
Cork Chamber: Our 2022 wish-list for Cork

President of Cork Chamber, Paula Cogan, at the 202nd Cork Chamber AGM. Picture:  Gerard McCarthy

THE year gone by has without doubt presented many challenges, but with the stepping stones towards recovery set out, the focus for 2022 must now be on delivery. Ireland must have a vision and deliver if it is to be credible among its people, the international community, and investors.

Chamber members believe in a sustainable future, focused on enhanced public and sustainable mobility, renewable energy, biodiversity, urban living, equality, and access to opportunity. According to our Sustainable Cork Programme research, quality of life will be the key differentiator for Cork.

Cork is already well placed to deliver on this ambition with strategies such as Ireland 2040, and the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy agreed by all. The significant URDF funding must now follow at pace. Cork’s local authorities have already thrown down the gauntlet by significantly ramping up everything from pedestrianisation to street art and this momentum must be sustained.

Housing for All contains a Croí Cónaithe fund that must prove its worth and deliver urban living. There is also now a National Development Plan which paints a picture of capital spend allocations for the next 10 years and there is no reason to think that any project aligned to Government policy won’t be funded if it can get to final investment decision.

However, the question remains, will this vision become a reality, or will past disappointments be repeated?

Recent experience would show that simply getting projects to final investment decision is akin to the rolling of dice. The culture of objecting to projects post consultation improves a project on rare occasion but always adds time.

 The act of challenging in courts adds nothing to the detail of a project but does offer a chance to test the laws upon which trust in our state is based and creates jurisprudence along the way.

In principle, this is all very appropriate, but it falls down in practice with inadequate resource and elastic timelines to process appeals at an Bord Pleanála and in the courts.

Objections can take years to resolve for no reason other than poor resources and lack of binding timelines.

What credible State allows its own nationally significant infrastructure projects to languish in this manner? It undermines the institutions, the economy, the environment, and the vision.

The year ahead must also concentrate on the power we consume in the productivity of our work and enjoyment of our lives. No discussion of contemporary infrastructure can be had without taking this into account.

We now know that the grid is stretched almost to capacity. We also know our ocean is an asset that is unique in the richness of it’s potential for the generation of renewable energy in the form of electricity and green hydrogen created by floating offshore wind.

Our ocean is geopolitically uncontested yet while other nations spend billions to defend energy assets, we don’t even seek to tap the value of our own. In a changing Europe it is in our geopolitical interest to create more energy than we consume. Energy is power.

Yet, we are aiming at best to scrape over our 2030 and 2050 climate commitments while in the same timeframe we could be global leaders. It is utterly negligent to be lamenting energy insecurity and climate change when we have such a potent solution in our hands. In this context of inertia, business will not be resigned to a future of carbon tax rises, or accept any excuse for energy insecurity. Targets must be increased and RESS expanded and the transmission infrastructure for hydrogen and electricity must be resourced and enabled. Power can only be solved at source and large-scale renewable generation is the answer.

As our economy finds its level, we are met with many constraints and barriers to competitiveness. More must be done in 2022 to enhance access to a diversity of talent with more open visa processes for international students, and the elevation of apprenticeships to the CAO. In consideration of talent, we must think global and local and be inclusive in doing so. Whatever we tell ourselves about social progress made in recent years, it is fact that not all are treated equally or have the same access to opportunity.

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 and the Hate Crime Bill can improve this. Crimes motivated by hate send a message to the victim, and to the wider community to which they belong, that they are not welcome or safe in Irish society. Strong legislation can protect people and ensure all know that they are welcome in our society and protected by the law.

It is also true that social capital can create significant advantage for some while creating barriers for others. For example, a student with well-placed professional parents is more likely to find themselves on a similar professional path than one who does not. To break down these barriers and ensure Cork is a place that encourages equal opportunity, we are working in partnership with Cork ETB to pilot a programme that links disadvantaged students into meaningful and relevant work placements. We look forward to engaging with businesses that understand that we cannot have a stable economy without a cohesive and respectful society.

In the pandemic, business and government have shown that we are capable of exceptional and swift action. From a policy and capital perspective we have many of the foundations in place. Ireland can sustain a stable and creative world-leading economy, and Cork can be a globally compelling city region, if we stay sharp in relation to the pandemic, really deliver on our existing infrastructure commitments, step up to our rightful place on renewables and walk-the-walk as a welcoming society of equals.

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