A DOOMSDAY scenario for the Mid-West Region has been laid out by one of the country’s foremost businessmen. Denis Brosnan, chairman of the Government-appointed Mid-West Task Force, has warned that doing nothing is not an option at a time when the region is in the middle of a crisis.
The task force was set up by Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan and by the Government almost a year ago, in response to the announcement of major job losses at Dell and other companies in Shannon and around the region.
The Mid-West Task Force was charged to consider and make recommendations concerning the implications of the serious economic downturn in the Mid-West.
The group, under the direction of Mr Brosnan and chief executive, Dr Vincent Cunnane of Shannon Development, worked feverishly to devise a comprehensive plan to reverse the downward spiral of company closures and job losses and restore confidence in the region.
The task force met with and received presentations from 24 groups, representing the major stakeholders and interest groups responsible for economic and social development in the region before publishing a comprehensive interim report in July.
Ireland’s 32% slump in international price competitiveness over an eight-year period up to September 2008 was identified by the group as a major cause for concern. This has had a significant impact in the Mid-West Region, which relies heavily on manufacturing, construction and tourism.
Signaling approval for a target of 20% for cost reduction, the task force recommended that a national cost competitiveness strategy be developed and implemented as a priority to help stem rising unemployment figures.
The document produced by the task force focused on key companies, facilities and infrastructures that are critical to the future prosperity of the region. Having a strong airport as an access point to the region, was identified as critical to any economic recovery. Shannon Airport’s key role as an economic driver for industry and tourism in the region was reaffirmed in the report. Funding to provide the infrastructure necessary for the establishment of a major cargo facility has been called for, as has a dedicated fund to support a market strategy for the airport.
The task force expressed the wish to meet regularly with the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Shannon Development, to ensure that the region gets priority for what is required to solve the unemployment crisis. It recommends that the IDA should set up a Mid-West response unit and report regularly to the task force on its success in attracting inward investment.
The task force also suggests that Shannon Development should receive supplementary funding of €5 million for the next three years, from the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism to further drive tourism development and innovation in the region.
This was quite a wish list but there was nothing on it that was unreasonable or unachievable. The task force delivered on its brief and it was up to the Government to get the ball rolling in terms of delivery.
However, there has been no reason to throw bouquets in the direction of the Government for launching any of the proposed initiatives. In fact, it’s disappointing to learn that the task force members are disillusioned over lack of Government support for their efforts. How bad things must be that the group even thought about giving up on their mission before Christmas.
With little or no positive response to the 20 priority pointers set out in the interim report of last July, “for the task force and for me, it would have been a waste of time to move to the second stage. Why start the second stage if nobody has any interest in the first stage?” Mr Brosnan has challenged.
Fine Gael TD Joe Carey has thrown down the gauntlet to Minister of State Tony Killeen and Deputy Timmy Dooley to consider resigning their Fianna Fáil party whips in protest against Government inaction on the plan. To be fair, both have been strongly supportive of the task force and there would be little to be gained by going down this route. In fact, it could sever a much-needed conduit to Government ministers and department heads.
A Dáil debate on the Mid-West Task Force is scheduled for this Thursday and it’s reasonable to expect that all contributors will laud the efforts of Denis Brosnan and his team in identifying what’s needed to put the Mid-West back on track.
Support from the Government benches might ring a little hollow unless Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, who appointed the task force in the first instance, can give a firm commitment to pursue projects and measures identified by the group in the interim report.
Mr Brosnan has made it quite clear why doing nothing is not an option for the Government in this case. A generation of unemployment or emigration for people coming into the workforce is what inaction could lead to.
Shannon in the shadows
AER Lingus is still keeping Shannon in the shadow of Dublin, even at a time when it could be to their benefit to take advantage of a special service that the County Clare airport has to offer.
Shannon was effectively overlooked when Aer Lingus outlined its long-haul plans for US flights before potential investors in London on Tuesday.
Not only has Aer Lingus not used the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pre-inspection station at Shannon since it came into operation in mid-2009 but it is now promoting the advantage of the Dublin CBP as a key element in giving the airline an edge in building a hub between the US and the UK in particular. This smacks of anti-Shannon, given that the Dublin CBP will not be operational until close to the end of this year. It also shows that the former national carrier has effectively confirmed Dublin as its centre of long-haul operations.
Aer Lingus has also this week forged an alliance that has the potential to cut into Shannon passenger numbers. The airline has entered into a franchise deal with Galway-based Aer Arann to provide feeder services into Dublin from both the West of Ireland and from points in the UK to be served by Aer Arann.
Fine Gael Deputy Pat Breen accused Aer Lingus of abandoning Shannon when he voiced his anger and annoyance at the airline’s continued lack of interest in expanding the route network from Shannon Airport.
There is certainly mounting evidence to support this view.