THE existence of Shannon Development prevented development in the region, the former head of the Mid-West Jobs Task Force has said.
Kerry Group founder Denis Brosnan – who has sat on a number of commitees aimed at developing Limerick – addressed the first night of the Fine Gael conference.
He said that when he was first tasked with getting the region moving again in the wake of Dell’s announcement of 1,900 job cuts in 2009, the structures in the region were “awful” – and if they had not been reformed, Limerick would continue to stagnate.
Shannon Development will officially be abolished as of January 1 next year, and Mr Brosnan thanked the government for this, describing the agency as “the elephant in the room” when it came to job creation.
“In 2009, they were still saying what they could do, but they didn’t have any money to do it. The state agencies were bypassing the region, because this elephant in the room was still there,” he told the conference.
Indeed, it was the closure of Dell’s manufacturing facility which Mr Brosnan said brought the “catalyst of change”.
“I told Michael Noonan when he was in opposition that the structures were so awful in this region, and until the structures were put right, there would be no development, and contineud decay,” he said.
“There was an abundance of state agencies. All I could see was the state agencies going to one another’s meetings, doing nothing to create jobs. In all, we had 17 job creation agencies in the region. I was mindboggled as to what they were doing: no jobs were created even in the good times,” Mr Brosnan told the conference.
To this end, he thanked Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton for “waking up the Government agencies to tell them that the Mid-West exists”.
He thanked the government for abolishing Shannon Development, writing off Shannon Airport’s debt, and allowing it to start life as a newly independent entity.
“Shannon Development was deneutered [by previous governments], but no-one wanted to put it to death. Thank you very much for putting it to death, because it had outlived its usefulness,” he said.
Mr Brosnan was also asked to sit on the Limerick Local Government Committee, and the Limerick Reorganisation Implementation Committee, which was set up to reform the local authority structures in the county.
Ultimately, Environment Minister Phil Hogan signed off on a merger of the City and County Councils in 2011.
“It was crazy,” Mr Brosnan said, “We had a City Council, with about 50,000 people, a County Council with 40,000 people in Limerick city, and we had Clare making up the background with about 5,000 people commondered on that side of the border.”
He jokingly said that they probably needed those Limerick folk for the hurling side.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, who recommended the independence of Shannon Airport which came into effect on New Year’s Day last, reported that the Clare base will certainly break even, and could even turn a small profit by year end.
“This is something I didn’t believe could happen in year one. I thought it would take at least three years,” he admitted.
He said merging Shannon Development with Shannon Airport to create a new state company was “the biggest challenge” his department has faced.
“We took two ailing entitles, Shannon Airport and Shannon Development, which were both in serious decline, and seized the opportunity to bring them together. Some people, including many opposition voices, said it couldn’t be done. They said we were abandoning Shannon Airport – we were throwing it to the wolves, that we should delay the decision until the time is right.”
But, Mr Varadkar concluded: “It is never the wrong time to make the right decision.”