Michael McGrath TD, Minister for Finance pictured at Shannon Chamber President’s lunch in Dromoland Castle Hotel with (l-r): Kevin Thompstone, director, Shannon Chamber; Senator Timmy Dooley; Eoin Gavin, president, Shannon Chamber; Barry O’Sullivan, chair, Shannon Estuary Economic Task Force; Helen Downes, CEO, Shannon Chamber; and Cathal Crowe TD. Photo by Eamon Ward.

SHANNON’s Free Zone was the precursor to changes in Ireland’s economic model, the Minister for Finance has said.

A keynote address was delivered by Minister for Finance, Michael McGrath (FF) at Shannon Chamber’s President’s lunch in Dromoland Castle on Wednesday last.

He outlined that the collaboration and links between industry, education and research in the Mid-West region has been a major contributory factor to employment growth in the region, which now stands at a quarter of a million people, an increase of 30,000 since the pandemic.

Minister McGrath detailed that the Shannon Free Zone was the precursor to changes in Ireland’s economic model, he said that the region has always been to the fore in framing economic policy.

He lauded the progress being made at Shannon Airport in increasing passenger numbers to over 2 million, an increase on the 2019 number of 1.8million and acknowledged the fundamentality of international connectivity to the region.

With the review of the Regional Airports Programme almost complete, he said that the Government will continue to support the work of the Airport.

Shannon Town’s new masterplan was labelled as an exciting roadmap by Minister McGrath. He said that a fourth call of Urban and Rural Development Fund (URDF), opening in 2024, should provide opportunities for capital funding for the project.

Commitment from the Government to deliver on the potential of the Shannon Estuary is alive, the Cork native said. On how Shannon Foynes Port can contribute to the development of an offshore wind sector for Ireland, he thanked the Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce for the “fine piece of work” they undertook.

Discussing the national economy, Minister McGrath said that Ireland is in a good position with modified domestic demand growth, despite a weakness in GDP linked mainly to a reduction in exports in the pharmaceutical sector. With 2.7m people now in employment in Ireland, he said that this was a key measure of the health of the economy.

In his introductory remarks, Shannon Chamber president, Eoin Gavin, said that the Chamber continually strives to cultivate an environment where enterprise can grow and that is why its name appears frequently in emails to Government Ministers, Department Officials and to local Oireachtas members. “We are constantly lobbying to influence positive outcomes on issues that impact our members and, or, this region,” he commented.

Focusing in on an issue of importance to Shannon and the region he called on the Government to support the delivery of the Shannon Town Centre Masterplan. “We hope that the Government will demonstrate a commitment to Shannon, though including funding for Phase 1 of this Plan – the delivery of the first building, the One Shannon Hub in the next round of URDF funding”.

Zoning in on another Chamber objective, enabling Shannon and the region to play a meaningful role in Ireland attaining its national carbon emission reduction targets, Mr Gavin said that through establishing a Mid-West Sustainability Network, the Chamber is working to position Shannon and the region as an exemplar contributor to sustainable development.

Citing power as a burning platform in boardrooms, he stressed the importance of developing the floating offshore wind sector, and reiterated the key asks put forward by the Shannon Estuary Economic Task Force “This sector is so important to Ireland, we simply must move forward at pace, and through collaboration. The outcomes will be as great as the impact the establishment of Ardnacrusha and Shannon Free Zone had on the national economy in past decades,” he said.

Michael McGrath TD, Minister for Finance pictured at Shannon Chamber’s President’s lunch with Helen Downes, CEO, Shannon Chamber and pupils and teacher, Tomás Quealy, from St. Caimin’s Community School in Shannon. Photo by Eamon Ward.

While presentations from both the Minister and the Chamber president were the focus of the luncheon, the pupils from two Shannon secondary schools, St. Patrick’s Comprehensive School and St. Caimin’s Community School kept the Minister engaged, as they questioned whether the Government has enough money in the Budget to tackle the housing and pyrite problems, why they should consider politics as a career, and if Ireland is actually in a recession.

Fielding all questions, Minister McGrath described being a politician as an “incredible privilege”, which brings huge responsibilities, but that he knew from an early age where his career would be. Stating that there are different ways into politics, he called on those with business and life experience to put this to use for a common good and consider entering the political arena.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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