The past year has undoubtedly presented many challenges, but with the stepping stones to recovery set, the focus for 2022 must now be on delivery. Ireland must have a vision and be up to the task if it is to be credible with its people, the international community and investors.
Members of the Chamber believe in a sustainable future, focused on improved public and sustainable mobility, renewable energies, biodiversity, urban life, equality and access to opportunities. According to our research from the Sustainable Cork Program, quality of life will be the main differentiator for Cork.
Cork is already well positioned to deliver on this ambition with strategies such as Ireland 2040 and the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy accepted by all. The significant URDF funding must now keep pace. Cork local authorities have already taken the leap by dramatically increasing everything from pedestrianization to street art and that momentum needs to be sustained.
Housing for All contains a Croí Cónaithe fund that must prove its worth and offer urban living. There is also now a National Development Plan which charts capital expenditure allocations for the next 10 years and there is no reason to believe that a project aligned with government policy will not be funded if he arrives at the final investment decision.
However, the question remains, will this vision become a reality, or will past disappointments repeat itself?
Recent experience would show that the simple act of bringing projects to the final investment decision is akin to rolling the dice. The culture of objecting to projects after consultation improves a project on rare occasions but always adds time.
Challenging in court adds nothing to the details of a project, but offers a chance to test the laws upon which trust in our state is built and creates case law along the way.
In principle, this is all very appropriate, but it fails in practice with inadequate resources and elastic deadlines to deal with appeals before an Bord Pleanála and before the courts.
Objections can take years to be resolved for no other reason than a lack of resources and a lack of binding deadlines.
What credible state is allowing its own nationally significant infrastructure projects to languish in this way? It undermines institutions, the economy, the environment and the vision.
The coming year must also focus on the power we consume for the productivity of our work and the pleasure of our life. No discussion of contemporary infrastructure can be done without taking this into account.
We now know that the network is stretched almost to capacity. We also know that our ocean is a unique asset for the richness of its potential for the generation of renewable energy in the form of electricity and green hydrogen created by floating offshore wind turbines.
Our ocean is geopolitically unchallenged, but while other countries spend billions to defend their energy assets, we are not even looking to harness the value of ours. In a changing Europe, it is in our geopolitical interest to create more energy than we consume. Energy is power.
However, we aim at best to exceed our climate commitments by 2030 and 2050 while in the same time frame, we could be world leaders. It is utterly remiss to bemoan energy insecurity and climate change when we have such a powerful solution in our hands. In this context of inertia, companies will not be resigned to a future of higher carbon taxes, nor will they accept an excuse for energy insecurity. Targets must be increased and the RESS expanded and the hydrogen and electricity transmission infrastructure must be resourced and activated. Energy can only be solved at the source and large-scale renewable energy production is the answer.
As our economy regains its level, we face many constraints and barriers to competitiveness. More needs to be done in 2022 to improve access to a diversity of talent with more open visa processes for international students and the elevation of apprenticeships at CAO. When it comes to talent, we need to think global and local and be inclusive in doing so. Whatever we say about the social progress made in recent years, it is a fact that not all are treated equally or have the same access to opportunities.
Ireland is one of the only countries in the EU that currently does not have legislation establishing the motivation of bias as an aggravating circumstance of a crime and the Hate Crimes Bill can improve this. Hate crimes 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 make sure everyone knows that they are welcome in our society and protected by the law.
It is also true that social capital can create a significant advantage for some while creating obstacles for others. For example, a student with well-placed professional parents is more likely to end up on a similar career path than another. To break down these barriers and ensure Cork is a place that promotes equal opportunity, we are working in partnership with Cork ETB to pilot a program that connects disadvantaged students with meaningful and relevant work placements. We look forward to working with companies who understand that we cannot have a stable economy without a cohesive and respectful society.
During the pandemic, business and government have shown that we are capable of exceptional and rapid action. From a policy and capital perspective, we have many of the foundations in place. Ireland can maintain a leading, stable and creative economy, and Cork can be an attractive urban region on a global scale, if we remain vigilant in the face of the pandemic, truly deliver on our infrastructure commitments, take action. our rightful place in renewable energies and let us walk the promenade as a welcoming society of equals.
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