'Ireland's most competitive and vibrant city': Cork chamber outlines vision for the future

'Ireland's most competitive and vibrant city': Cork chamber outlines vision for the future
Conor Healy, Cork Chamber CEO; Paula Cogan, Cork Chamber Vice President; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; and Bill O’Connell, Cork Chamber President at Cork Chamber's Dublin Dinner held in association with EY last night. Photo: Finbarr O'Rourke

Cork Chamber president Bill O’Connell used his address at the organisation’s annual Dublin dinner to outline a vision of how he sees Cork in 2030 if the “once in a lifetime opportunity is grasped” for the city.

Speaking to an audience of 600 from the business community as well as political leaders including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Mr O’Connell said the opportunity for Cork to complement Dublin as a global city and brand in its own right could not be wasted.

President of Cork Chamber, Bill O’Connell at the annual Dublin dinner in the Clayton Hotel Burlington Road:

“Taoiseach, Lord Mayor, Tánaiste, Ministers, Mayor of Cork County, Ambassadors, elected representatives, ladies and gentlemen, etc.


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"I’m delighted to be here this evening. A capital city, forging ahead, with 89 cranes on the skyline, with a modal shift to 70% sustainable transport, casually announcing 1000s of new jobs at a time. An outward looking capital and a global brand. It’s hard to believe it’s 12 months since last year’s event and our city regions have been moving with pace.

"So too has the GAA. One of my great passions. Some of you noticed I managed to avoid any reference to sport last year - I was more than happy with that given the crest of the wave Dublin was on, having just secured three in a row.

"Now that four in a row is in the bag I think it would be remiss of me not to single it out for special mention. We in Cork are happy we’ve made the obvious strategic decision (cough!) to focus solely on the small ball with our camogie and hurling which will hopefully bring Cork its first hurling title in more than 10 years. We can only live in hope.

"The biggest threat to Dublin’s ‘drive for 5’ is perhaps not on the field of play. I recall an episode of the Sunday Game where the panel was discussing dividing Dublin up into smaller boroughs.

"If this does happen then don’t hesitate to reach out as we in Cork have plenty of experience redrawing local boundaries and would be only too happy to help! I jest of course – next year it’ll be fascinating to see if Dublin can get the famous five and make this team truly legendary.

"And what of Cork? Our beautiful city, our safe harbour, the Rebel county - a place like no other. Well, that beautiful county and city are poised to make great strides.

Cork is going to be the fastest growing city region over the next 20 years. We’ve never had a strategic vision as strong as Ireland 2040. I’ve heard our Tánaiste speak passionately on how 25% of the city’s footprint has yet to be developed. We have the resources and track record to back this up. Now I say - let’s just do it, let’s make it happen.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we truly have it in our grasp to make this great city region of ours a global brand and real complement to Dublin. Let’s not waste it.

"So what I want to do tonight was for us to imagine what Cork is going to look like in the future – so with your indulgence (you can close your eyes if it makes it better…

"The year is 2030. Dublin are going for 15 in a row...

"I’ve hopped onto our Luas in Ballincollig. My iPhone 20 confirming I’ve made contactless ticket payment and that my journeys by electric vehicle have saved over 350 kilos of carbon from our natural environment this month.

"Looking around I see grandmothers with their grandchildren, professionals in suits, professionals in runners, kids going to school. I listen, I hear beirt daoine ag labhairt cúpla focal. La breá brothallach a bhí ann. I hear other languages too, German, Danish and Chinese.

"Glancing through the window I see the Children’s Service Centre, providing equal opportunities for all children.

"We stop at the Science park, proudly flying the EU flag. Students of UCC and Munster Technological University hop on and off. We pass a new apartment building being lifted into place in segments. Fully powered by renewable electricity, it actually contributes energy to the grid.

"One of the students wonders why people used to stand outside in mud and gravel laying block on block back in the day. They laugh before discussing the incredible careers available in construction. It’s about innovation. It’s about creating a better society.

Bill O’Connell, Cork Chamber President; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; Tanaiste Simon Coveney and Conor Healy, Cork Chamber CEO.
Bill O’Connell, Cork Chamber President; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; Tanaiste Simon Coveney and Conor Healy, Cork Chamber CEO.

"We coast into the City Centre, past the Events Centre towards Patricks Street. A live data stream over the Capitol shows record footfall this month.

"A combination of our urban population having doubled, consumer confidence based on steady, counter-cyclical budgetary measures, steady investment in public transport infrastructure and increasing levels of sustainable high-value jobs in the city centre.

"Two Gardai on bikes chase an autonomous vehicle down the street, openly flaunting the PanaBan. Who’ll get the ticket?!

"A girl next to me has her iPad out, doing an augmented reality tour of her favourite boutique before hopping off to check it out in real life. A drone leaves a menswear shop delivering a tailored suit to the customer's door.

"Coming along by the Lee, the water is pure and clear. With the addition of multiple pontoons, the river is a lively source of activity. Bikes are tied to railings. Boats come and go. Some hardy folks are taking a swim lesson while the tide is at it’s highest. The Urban Regeneration Fund has created three exceptional civic spaces for our city region.

"The quay walls stand steadfast -- 4km worth are fully restored and bolstered to keep our city safe and dry.

"I decide to stay on a little longer and get off just as the tracks begin their dive south through the Docklands. The Port of Cork buildings look fantastic. Limestone warehouses bordered by both channels of the Lee. Lovingly adapted to new use, adorned at their southernmost tip by Irelands tallest building.

A testament to the delivery of a New Cork. A symbol of the balance of old and new, heritage and progress. From the top floor, you can see all the way to Blackpool, to a rejuvenated historical part of our city.

Where commuters from Mallow to Midleton hop off at Kilbarry Station to work with the best tech companies in the world. Where dedicated bus and cycle lanes filter from the M20 Limerick motorway, the world’s smartest motorway.

"Best of all, apartments peep out adding a new dimension to the skyline, providing downtown accommodation, where young workers, families and senior citizens live together in new communities in the heart of the city.

"In the Docklands, our 300th Cork FDI investor recently opened its waterfront office bolstering the financial services cluster in the city even further.

"Connecting Cork. The CEO has chosen to live in a houseboat by the quayside. The availability of the new hospital, schools, housing and amenities all within walking distance having swung the decision to base in Cork rather than Frankfurt.

"A little further out, yachts and dinghies cut through clean water. Dive boards rattle under feet at the open harbour baths. The harbour is thriving. It works hard for Cork, enabled by the M28 Ringaskiddy motorway, hosting a thriving Port and ever-growing energy industry. To sea, an offshore wind farm churns slowly, exporting our energy surplus to the continent.

"The Luas doors close behind me. I walk past Kent Station. The 16.00 high speed rail to Dublin is just departing. We’ve been clever here lowering journey time to 90 minutes, meaning Cork based companies can visit their Dublin outposts on a whim and be back in time for lunch on the Mall.

"Dublin is evolving. It’s an exemplary commuter ecosystem, the envy of capitals worldwide. Bike, walk, car, Luas, Metro, DART and Bus Connects. Live data for every commuter. A liveable city for those who choose not to commute at all. A capital city for all of Ireland to be proud of. They even have enough water.

"Walking up Summer Hill to the Chamber, the evening New York flight leaves a trail high overhead. I’m struck by how much we have achieved since my time as President in 2018.

"Our community is now more diverse than ever before. We have created economic resilience, our economy is influenced by global trends rather than weakened by them. Our young people can choose incredible career paths on their front door. The diversity of the world has come to them, and they may join it elsewhere as they please, and not out of necessity.

"Entering the Chamber Council room, I am delighted to meet with Chamber colleagues and members. I refuse to eat the vegan wraps as we sit around the boardroom table waiting for our guest and the beginning of our meeting!

"When the Minister for City Regions enters the room she is warmly greeted by all. Some locally roasted coffee is poured. The meeting begins. The topic of discussion: How do we plan for a sustainable Ireland 2080?

"It’s the year 2030. The Ireland 2040 commitments have been delivered by Government without delay.

"WE are Cork. Irelands most competitive and vibrant city region. The BEST place for business. And the All-Ireland back-to-back camogie and hurling champions for the fifth year in a row.”

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