Ireland’s credibility risked by planning and policy contradictions – Limerick Chamber President Miriam O’Connor

Refusal of planning for LNG facility on Shannon Estuary conflicts with new government strategy outlining plan for LNG terminal

Limerick President’s award goes to John Kiely on behalf of Limerick team, while Carelon Global Solutions Ireland is named company of the year

View the gallery from the Limerick Chamber President’s Dinner & Regional Business Awards: Click here

Inconsistency between the government’s commitment to build a new floating LNG storage facility and An Bord Pleanala’s decision to refuse planning permission for an LNG terminal on the Shannon Estuary has challenged Ireland’s credibility among international investors, outgoing Limerick Chamber President Miriam O’Connor has stated.

In her address at the Limerick Chamber President’s Dinner & Regional Business Awards, attended by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, overnight, Ms O’Connor said that despite Ireland’s unrivalled opportunity for offshore wind, investors will look to Europe where they will get certainty that they don’t get here.

Limerick Chamber is the largest business association in the Mid-West and the third largest chamber in Ireland. Its annual Presidents Dinner and Regional Business Awards is the most anticipated business event of the year and last night the prestigious annual President’s Award was given to Limerick hurling manager John Kiely on behalf of his four-in-a-row champions.

On a big awards night for Limerick hurling, Mr Kiely was in attendance as seven of his 2023 heroes were being recognised at the All-Stars banquet in the RDS and his star player Aaron Gillane picking up the Player of the Year Award.

Some eight companies from across the region were presented with individual category awards, with the Overall Company of the Year award going to Carelon Global Solutions Ireland, a US multi-national health-tech company established only two years ago in Limerick with an initial 60 posts but has already hired 230 people, drawn from 32 different nationalities. It develops services and processes that will help identify individual and wider public health interventions to enable people to live healthier and longer lives as well as identify efficiency gains in healthcare provision.

In her President’s address, Ms O’Connor called, in particular, for a review of planning processes so that delays, and resultant losses, like the 15 years incurred with the Ballylongford LNG project that was recently refused planning permission, are no more.

The loss of the LNG investment, she said, allied to the impending loss of hundreds of jobs at Wyeth and the winding down of the power stations in Tarbert and Moneypoint have been huge blows to an estuary that should right now be treated like the jewel in the national crown that it can be. These issues are all the more reason why the government must act on the vision set out this year by the Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce for the region to become a green digital powerhouse for the country and for Europe thanks to its unlimited offshore wind resource and proximity of the deep waters of the Shannon Estuary as a staging post for the international renewable energy hub.

“The decision of An Bord Pleanala to refuse planning permission, for the Power Station and LNG terminal at Ballylongford was a further blow to the region. This decision, cost New Fortness Energy 15 years, and in the private sector, delay equals cost. We must, urgently review the current planning system and provide minimum statutory timelines for responses to support investment decisions.

“And we cannot ignore the Energy Security Strategy published by Government this week, which now confirms that the state will build a new floating LNG storage facility, as a strategic emergency reserve, two months after NFE were refused their planning permission.”

“These contradictory decisions are a risk to the credibility of Ireland as an attractive destination for international investors in the energy sector. To move to the forefront of energy development we need policy that supports companies in this space.

“Businesses need certainty to manage risk and this Government provided an unprecedented level of certainty and support to businesses during the Covid pandemic, an important move that helped preserve the state of our economy. And tonight we urge Government to again be visionary in their support for the development of floating offshore wind. The Mid-West, with its vast coastline and deep waters, is uniquely positioned to become the global leader in the development of this new and exciting sector.”

Ms O’Connor said that there is enough power off the west coast for 70 million people. “So not alone can we turn Ireland green but help turn Europe green and, doing so, make our biggest ever contribution to the European project. However, the reality is that other nations, with a fraction of that capacity are getting ahead in this race.

The Chamber President called, in particular, for government to accelerate delivery of Designated Maritime Area Plans (DMAPS), that define the developable area of the Atlantic ocean, together with targets for floating offshore wind in Phase 3. She also proposed that government fast-track investment in strategic infrastructure for the Shannon Estuary, in order for much-needed grid improvements to take full advantage of our renewable potential. She called for the development of a regional ecosystem at Foynes to build on the existing ESB plans for the Green Atlantic @ Moneypoint project and the master plan for the development of the port.

Ms O’Connor’s comments were added to by President of TUS Professor Vincent Cunnane, who told the Taoiseach, “We have a problem; and we need your backing.”

“The Shannon Estuary Taskforce Report needs to be implemented in full. We need Shannon 2.0 to go ahead but we are starting to wonder if this will really happen. It is unlikely that investors will consider the region without a strong signal now from government. Sustained support for the Estuary Taskforce Plan on Floating Offshore Wind is exactly the message that investors need to see. We can see movement in the East and in the South, but we do not see the same commitment of resources here, despite having an agreed plan in place to exploit the infinite potential of our offshore wind,” he said.

Damien Garrihy (Head of AIB Business Banking Retail for Clare and Limerick) commented that AIB was proud to once again sponsor the flag-ship business event in the Mid-West. In his welcome note he highlighted how the Bank and the Chamber’s really strong partnership was further embedded in 2023, especially through their collaboration on the ‘Energy on the Estuary’ series, where the Chamber’s desire to embrace and enhance the Region’s potential for Offshore Energy ties fully in with AIB’s strategic ambition to support environmentally sustainable lending.

Garrihy also noted AIB’s involvement with the Chamber’s very popular ‘Member Mingle’ series and how it was a great opportunity for existing, new and potential members to build a strong network in the relaxed informal setting of the Chamber’s historic boardroom. Overall Garrihy emphasised the trojan work that the Chamber does for the region and called on those present not to take that work for granted and to continue to support the Chamber.

In addition to the President’s Award to John Kiely, and Overall Company of the Year to Carelon Global Solutions Ireland, eight category awards were presented. The Limerick Chamber Regional Business Awards 2023 winners were:

Best Emerging Business: Mavarick
Best SME: Mater Private Network
Innovation Excellence: ACI worldwide
Best ESG Business: Environment Impact Award- H&MV Engineering
Best Not for Profit Award: NOVAS
Best Employer/Employee Value Proposition Award: Carelon Global Solutions Ireland
Best Excellence in Customer Experience Award – Retail and Hospitality: No.1 Pery Square
Best Contribution to the Community Award: Cook Medical
2023 Best Overall Business of the Year Award: Carelon Global Solutions Ireland

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