I too welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. With my colleagues, I attended the meeting on 22 January with Denis Brosnan and some of his team. I agree with everybody who attended the meeting that he was very dejected. He was almost depressed by the lack of action because his group had put in a lot of work. I have seen members of the task force, who are eminent people. Bringing them together and deciding who should be on the task force was a very positive beginning to the regeneration and improvement of the mid-west.
Mr. Brosnan spoke at length regarding job losses in the region and referred to net employment and enterprise supported by State agencies such as IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Shannon Development. Jobs supported by those organisations dropped by 17% in 2009 and fewer than 1,000 new jobs were created in the region by the IDA from 2006 to 2008. People have spoken of the impact Dell had on the region. While many people think of it as a city employer, it employed an enormous number of people from County Limerick, which was severely hit by the closure. In referring to the State agencies, I am trying to think when they last created a job in Limerick or west Limerick. I cannot remember when they did; we know they supported industries which have folded over the past ten years.
I accept the Rahine Industrial Estate is of help and provides employment to the people of Limerick, but we also need employment creation in places like Newcastle West, Kilmallock and Foynes. There is a marvellous opportunity to create marine industry and employment in Foynes. This is not a new idea; ten years ago we discussed creating marine employment and industry in Foynes because it has the potential to develop a port and other types of employment.
Many referred to Shannon Airport. The task force saw this as one of the keys to the future of the region. Mr. Brosnan pointed out there was a 12% decline in passenger numbers in 2008 and the 2009 decline was of the same magnitude. Further decline is anticipated in 2010. It is necessary to reverse that. One of the keys to reverse it is to support the Link project to provide funding for the necessary infrastructure to enable it to proceed. Mr. Brosnon pointed out that this could be the key to the future development not just of Shannon Airport but the whole mid-west region.
There is concern that from April only one Ryanair plane will be based in Shannon. The plans for Aer Lingus are unclear and there is a lot of concern about its continued support for Shannon. It was pointed out to us that other US carriers are also pulling out. People were quite concerned that the Dublin Airport Authority, which was in competition with Shannon during the development of the aviation industry, did not support the development of Shannon. The Minister of State might examine the issue. I do not know what the solution is, but the point was made that the DAA is a hindrance to the development of Shannon Airport and to stopping its decline. I cannot give the Minister of State the solution but he might examine the relationships between the DAA and Shannon Airport.
The cargo hub link is vital. If the Minister of State announced it today, it would be supported. It costs €7 million. He should think of what he had to pay out for the flooding and the big freeze, which was not enough. A sum of €7 million is small compared to those immediate actions, which were unexpected. This is planned and the benefit is obvious.
On tourism, it was pointed out there was a 3% decrease in visitor numbers in 2009, which will increase to 15%. If the services in Shannon are being reduced, it will have an impact on our tourism business. I will mix infrastructure and tourism, but I want to raise the issue of Adare, which has a very good tourism product, but could be improved immensely if a bypass was built. If one stands at the Dunraven Arms most days and looks down towards the road, all one will see are trucks and cars. I went to take a photograph there a number of years ago at 11 a.m. and I had to go away. One could not take a photograph of the village as all the cars and heavy traffic destroyed it – I took it at 7 o’clock one morning as there was less traffic. It would be of enormous benefit to the region. It is 25 years since the first line was drawn for the bypass of Adare and four have been drawn since then. I often felt like researching the cost in terms of drawing four different lines for the route for the Adare bypass.
The tourism and economic development plan funding which the task force sought was €53 million, of which €6 million has been provided to date. The Minister of State might address that in his closing remarks. A major spend was requested in the Irish market for holidays in the mid-west campaign, which should be completed by Shannon Development and Fáilte Ireland. It is urgently required due to the expected difficulties as a result of the reduction in passenger numbers in Shannon.
The mid-west has the potential to create much more employment in tourism. It was pointed out to us that the cost structure for the tourism product must be examined to ensure it is competitive. We must make sure we are very strong in ensuring the cost base, especially energy, for the tourist product in the mid west is addressed.
It was pointed out that funding for enterprises, in particular small enterprises, was restricted which caused job losses and resulted in new ones not being created. It was suggested that a regional venture capital fund be established to provide seed capital to entrepreneurs to create jobs in indigenous start-ups.
My final point concerns the western rail corridor. It must not move down the list of priorities in terms of any reduction in capital funding made in our infrastructure policy because it would have enormous benefits for the mid-west and Limerick. It would also aid the construction of the Adare bypass. I look forward to the Minister of State’s contribution.