You wait years for the regeneration of strategic but derelict city sites — then two sod turnings on schemes worth some €100m come along on the same day.
Just two weeks out from a general election, and after criticism earlier this week that it was nothing more than an election stunt, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton swept in to Cork City yesterday to formally launch the city’s long-awaited and much anticipated 6,000-seat events centre — one of two strategic investment projects showcased yesterday.
While demolition work is already under way on the John Cleary Developments regeneration of the former Capitol cinema site on the Grand Parade — a site which has lain vacant for a decade — there was an air of scepticism around the events centre project on South Main St, amid concerns that final contracts had not yet been signed.
After decades of false dawns and months of protracted talks on funding, the sod turning apparently came out of the blue late last week.
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The timing led to accusations that Fine Gael was staging a photoshoot for purely electoral purposes, and to claims that they’d all head off back to Dublin, and leave Cork waiting weeks, if not months, for construction work to start.
But that scepticism was quickly dispelled when all the key players confirmed publicly, before the city’s business, civic, and political leaders, that all the T’s had been crossed, and all the I’s dotted in recent days. The way is now clear, they assured, for work to begin on the project. Demolition starts within weeks. They even went so far as to predict the multi-purpose events and conference centre facility will be hosting its first concerts within 26 months.
Both projects will each create hundreds of construction jobs, and hundreds more once they are fully operational and occupied. An opportunity if ever there was one for the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, both wearing hard hats, to repeat their “let’s keep the recovery going” election mantra. And they did. Several times.
But Mr Kenny could have done with a hard hat when a group of anti-water charge protesters surrounded him on a brief walkabout.
There were angry scenes as he strolled from the Grand Parade, along Tuckey St, to the brewery site. Dozens of gardaí had to step in to surround him as he and his retinue of ministers and TDs were swamped by up to 40 water charge protesters who screamed and shouted “Enda Enda Enda, out, out, out”.
Amid a tirade of verbal abuse and foul language, the protesters’ central message was that Enda and Joan’s recovery isn’t benefiting everyone. And they made it clear, very clear, that they don’t want either re-elected.
The verbal abuse, the pushing, and the shoving continued until the dignitaries were ushered through the brewery gates and inside its historic and protected Counting House for speeches.
Former Beamish boss, Alf Smiddy, smiled as the Tánaiste recalled her days working in the building in admin. Speakers including the Lord Mayor Chris O’Leary and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney underlined the significance of the events centre project to the future of the city, and indeed the region.
Mr Coveney said: “The idea that people from Munster had to travel to Dublin to see big shows, to see big concerts, it’s not something that sits comfortably here. And we’re changing that.”
He praised the efforts of all those involved in the tortuous negotiations over the last 14 months.
But none of that mattered to the protesters outside who hurled more abuse as the Taoiseach and Tánaiste ventured outside to the St Fin Barre’s Cathedral side of the site to turn the sod.
It didn’t seem to faze the Taoiseach, who, with two such ceremonies on projects worth €100m under his belt by noon, felt confident enough to keep repeating the mantra, ‘let’s keep the recovery going’.
It was then off to the Maryborough Hotel where he, and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, unveiled various crime and justice proposals over a luncheon for invited guests.
On a food-related theme, he also met the Brook Food Services catering specialists team, who announced plans to hire 30 people this year — a move that will bring the firm’s headcount to 255.
The growth comes on the back of contract wins with from Tyco, Shannon Heritage, Revenue, and Barretstown Fun Camp, and recruitment is under way.
Later, the Taoiseach visited the Little Island offices of software firm, Aspira, which plans to create 50 jobs, most based at its Cork HQ with some in Dublin, over the next 18 months.
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