November 30: Estuary plan vital to secure a way of life

ANOTHER day, another document. Last Friday, Limerick TD and Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan launched a new long-term plan for developing the Shannon Estuary. At the launch event in Dromoland, the document was touted as a 30 year blueprint for the “sustainable and careful management” of the estuary, with its 100km of coastline, its heavy industry and its special areas of conservation. Driven by city and county councils in Limerick, Clare and Kerry, the new plan strives for much, but promises very little.

ANOTHER day, another document. Last Friday, Limerick TD and Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan launched a new long-term plan for developing the Shannon Estuary. At the launch event in Dromoland, the document was touted as a 30 year blueprint for the “sustainable and careful management” of the estuary, with its 100km of coastline, its heavy industry and its special areas of conservation. Driven by city and county councils in Limerick, Clare and Kerry, the new plan strives for much, but promises very little.

In March the Shannon Foynes Port Company (SFPC), which owns the working guts of the estuary, launched its own road map for the future amid similar hope and fanfare.

‘Vision 2041’ did not want for ambition, scale and sheer optimism, and predicted €2 billion in investment and the creation of 2,000 new jobs over the next three decades.

Taken together, the two documents have much in common. But perhaps as significantly, they both accept that much of what will or will not happen to the estuary’s economy in the years ahead is out of our hands.

Real life along the estuary coast is not a collection of strategies and charts. It is a place of extraordinary natural beauty, which is mixed with a tough appetite for work among the people who live there. Foynes, for example, is one of the few places where the volume and cargo of commercial ships is a topic for chatter in the local shop. In drawing up a succession of strategic documents charting its future, a case is being made to Ireland, Europe and the world that the estuary is a thriving place, and that it is worth the investment.

But none of the successes of the past can be taken for granted. An ambitious strategy to double shipping volumes is a tough sell without a working rail line. Attracting greater numbers of fishing and wildlife tourists is difficult when the main road is out of date. And of course, the future of the €1 billion Shannon LNG project remains, at the time of writing, anxiously uncertain before the High Court.

But new strategies are helpful, if only to remind anyone who would forget that the Shannon Estuary - beautiful, diverse and functional - is the most important natural resource our region has.