Cahercon House. Photograph: Ann Marie Hanrahan

CONFUSION surrounds the spending of an allocation of €1.8m for the Clare Maritime Economic Zone (MEZ) project in Cahercon.

Announced in December 2018, almost €1.8m was confirmed for the development of specialist infrastructure and accommodation for maritime and cruise liner related training in Co Clare. The Clare MEZ project for Cahercon was to also include a test bed for renewable technologies.

Development was set to occur over a number of phases with the first phase incorporating the renovation of an on-site accommodation block, kitchen and dining block, conversion of the classroom block into small lecture rooms and research labs, and conversion of the gymnasium into a wet training facility with a small training pool.

Addressing a meeting of the West Clare Municipal District in May 2019, senior planner with Clare County Council, Brian McCarthy detailed the initial focus had been on marketing the Clare MEZ with a dedicated website established and brochures procedure. As of April 2022, the website remains under construction. In April 2019, Cruise Ireland discussed the project at the Seatrade Cruise Global Conference in Miami. “Feedback has been highly positive not just from the cruise companies but from other organisations seeing development possibilities including marine renewable energy in the zone around Cahercon,” McCarthy stated.

At the same meeting, Cllr Gabriel Keating (FG) declared, “with the likes of Brian McCarthy at the helm it will be successful” while Cllr Ian Lynch (IND) stated, “it’s the start of something good”.

“For some unknown reason, the whole scheme fell apart,” Cllr PJ Kelly (FF) remarked at a recent sitting of Clare County Council.

Priority from the local authority appears to have shifted towards a maritime training centre in Kilrush which received funding of €1.75m from Enterprise Ireland in December 2021. The building located in the Marina has shown signs of pyrite which has been flagged by Clare TD, Violet Anne Wynne (IND) and members of the Clare Pyrite Action Group.

A report has been sought from the Council by Cllr Kelly “detailing the employment related projects being pursued in the Shannon Estuary”. His call was seconded by Cllr Joe Killeen (FF).

Director of Economic Development, Liam Conneally referenced the Programme for Government which committed to consider the potential of the Shannon Estuary “in terms of regional economic development across transport and logistics, manufacturing, renewable energy and tourism”.

He spoke of the Strategic Integrated Framework Plan for the Shannon Estuary (SIFP), a land and marine-based plan “the first of its type to be developed in the country” which he claimed “has informed decisions, policy and in particular significant investment decisions in and along the Estuary. Moneypoint and Cahercon are identified in the SIFP for a Strategic Development Locations”.

Mr Conneally was adamant both Moneypoint and Cahercon had “very real opportunities” in establishing a hub for offshore wind energy. Offshore renewable energy companies will utilise the Estuary “for manufacturing, assembly, servicing, and associated supply chain requirements of the large-scale turbines and critically to provide onshore access to the national grid,” he stated. The zoning of 1200 ha has been informed by the SIFP, he flagged. “A recent report by the Shannon Foynes Port states that a mid growth scenario for offshore energy could yield up to €12Bn by 2050, an investment which will lead to huge jobs growth”.

Senior officials in the Council recently met a delegation from Simply Blue Group regarding their Western Star Offshore Floating Wind project where challenges and opportunities associated with the Estuary were highlighted, they also visited Cahercon Pier. Active engagement with the ESB on their Green Atlantic proposal at Moneypoint continues.

Education and training opportunities will follow developments in offshore floating wind, Conneally said which will bring “a significant economic benefit to all of the communities not only along the northern shore of the Shannon Estuary but to the entire of West Clare and beyond”. A training facility must be located in close proximity to “where this potential lies off the western seaboard and to where various offshore floating wind companies are looking to establish”.

He was determined that such a maritime training facility would be located in Clare. Kilrush is now the preferred location of key decision makers in the local authority. Their predictions are that it can attract 1,200 visiting trainees per annum staying in local accommodation resulting in 28 full-time jobs supported with an annual direct employment income of €489,438 per annum.

Conneally explained, “The Kilrush Maritime Training Centre seeks to provide specialist infrastructure and training within the Maritime sector specifically in relation to mandatory safety training required for working at sea. This development will deliver new job creation opportunities for the local community and act as an economic stimulus with wider regional positive impacts offering new opportunities on a significant natural asset unique to the region and to Ireland.

Ireland’s target of 5GW of offshore wind in the Climate Action Plan by 2030 was noted by the Director who said connection to the existing grid at Moneypoint is “critical” for the west coast to play a part and also see coastal economies benefit. “Clare County Council are working closely with Shannon Foynes Port Company as the statutory authority for the 500sq/km Shannon Estuary to establish the Shannon Estuary as a Global Centre of Excellence in terms of Floating Offshore Wind, to provide the complete supply chain for the manufacturing, assembly, staging and operation/maintenance for this Offshore Floating Wind Sector,” he added.

DesignPro Renewables are currently awaiting a decision in relation to their Foreshore Licence Application for the testing of two pre-commercial tidal energy devices just off Cahercon Pier. “The approval of this licence would allow the renewables company to progress the development of their device to full commercialisation without the need to travel internationally to achieve this,” Conneally outlined.

Questions remain unanswered when it comes to the allocations of €1.8m for Cahercon and €1.75m for Kilrush, Cllr Kelly warned, “Is the €1.75m separate to the €1.8m for Cahercon”. He believed the Kilrush facility was dependent on factors such as offshore wind and whether training could take place in the West Clare town.

Calls for a full report into why the Cahercon project has not proceeded were echoed by Cllr Kelly, “the people of Kildysart are very upset that this appears to have fallen”. On the detail provided by Mr Conneally, the Lissycasey representative remarked, “it is full of presumption and assumption, as we know presumption and assumption put together are the parents of a real cock up”.

Moneypoint’s potential as a transhipment port were stressed by the long-serving councillor, “the Government have initiated multi-millions of investment for Foynes which in comparison to Moneypoint is a glorified duck pond. The amount of money so far for Kilrush is only substantial to a bed and breakfast which isn’t enough”.

Chief Executive of the Council, Pat Dowling acknowledged that grant aid was received for Cahercon “around the development of a maritime project”. He added, “Cahercon was one of the sites identified and looked at, Clare County Council never had Cahercon in its ownership, the building and I reviewed it myself on a number of occasions, the building and classrooms would have taken a lot of investment to bring back into use”. He said a commitment for the project “is to be looked at”.

Clare has lost out on “major projects,” Cllr Pat McMahon (FF) lamented. He referenced a motion from years gone by seeking an address from Dutch water experts on how best to maximise opportunities in West Clare.

Using Moneypoint as a hub for shipping “gets thrown out regularly,” Cllr Lynch observed. Experts have “said we’re on the wrong side” with the northern bank not developed sufficiently. The Kilrush representative maintained that ESB would not keep the jetty which was designed to cater for safe berthing of 250,000 tonne ships, “the one asset we’ve been shouting about for years will be taken away from us”. He felt the subject was deserving of a full meeting of the West Clare MD but without the media present and then return before a full Council meeting.

Repeated queries were voiced by Cllr Kelly on the status of Cahercon’s €1.8m allocation, “there is a bit of a confusion”. Dowling responded to commit to completing a report as requested by Cllr Kellly and to furnish details of the maritime project for West Clare.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

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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