Leadership, peace and progress

Conor Healy, Cork Chamber CEO

As we reflect on 2023, it has without doubt been a year of great progress for the business community in Cork, undeniably marked by significant advancements. However, amidst this progress, the region did not emerge unscathed from the reverberations of conflict, a reality that manifested itself prominently in 2023.

In the past year Cork continued to grow in every sense and the city itself is showing real signs of transformation with ambitious and exciting new projects on the horizon such as the Docklands which is set to regenerate and rejuvenate the city and will see major population growth up to 2040.

From an FDI and indigenous business perspective Cork is performing exceptionally well. 2023 saw a stream of investments as well as expansion announcements from some of the biggest employers in the region. All the elements needed to cater for this type of growth have been high on the agenda for Cork Chamber and our 1,200 members including, housing, infrastructure, sustainability, education, policing, and public transport. We are indeed seeing real signs of progress in many of these areas with positive engagement from the highest level of Government.
Over the course of the year, we have met with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien on the challenges being faced by some of our members in relation to the undersupply of housing in the region. We also met with Transport Minister Eamon Ryan on the need to progress all elements of public transport including the accelerated delivery of Cork’s highly anticipated light rail option. We raised the issue of the need for increased policing resources with Justice Minister Helen McEntee when she visited Cork Chamber’s Fitzgerald House in recent months, and we presented our Budget 2024 submission to Finance Minister Michael McGrath. A broad range of issues including the progression of the renewable energy sector here in Cork were also discussed at a meeting with Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment Simon Coveney.

The progression of these priorities coupled with ongoing developments in the region are without doubt a cause for great optimism as we enter 2024. But what is the true value of all this without peace? If the last 12 months have taught us anything, it is that without peace there is no real progress.

In the final months of 2023, we all witnessed the devastating scenes of unrest both at home and abroad - on our television screens, in our newspapers and on social media – and some bore personal witness to these shocking events. It has renewed the need for a proactive approach to diversity, equality and inclusion. Each individual has the capacity to contribute, and our business community can set the precedent. By embodying these principles within our businesses, we can extend their influence into our communities.

Leaders in both business and politics bear a responsibility to champion diversity, equality, and inclusion, particularly in light of recent national and international events. We find ourselves in the midst of societal unrest and geopolitical tensions, and it is essential that we foster an environment that prioritises diversity and inclusion. Social cohesion and strong vibrant communities are the foundations upon which all aspects of our society thrive. 

In Cork, one of our proudest achievements is maintaining a workforce that is both diverse and inclusive. It is what sets us apart and makes our city region an attractive place to live, work and invest in. We have seen firsthand the positive contribution our deep and diverse talent pool has made to innovation, creativity, and overall organisational success across our membership.

The instability that we have seen on an international scale has had repercussions on supply chains, market dynamics, and overall economic conditions. Without doubt, the business community here in Cork has demonstrated its resilience and has adapted to the unfavourable conditions created by this volatility. But reacting to these conditions cannot be the default response, we must be proactive, and as business leaders a commitment to peace must be demonstrated. We must do what is in our control to shift the dial and foster a culture of diversity, equality, and inclusion. It is not enough to leave this in the hands of our political leaders, we must also lead by example. Simply being pro diversity is no longer enough. We must be actively anti-racist, or we will irrevocably damage Ireland’s global leadership role.

As we stand at the outset of 2024, the progress and promise that characterise Cork's business landscape are undeniable. However, as we continue to navigate the uncertainties created by unrest here at home and abroad, it is clear that the value of progress is inextricably linked to the presence of peace. We must enter 2024 resolute in our approach to conflict and lead by example, actively contributing to the creation of a society and business environment that values peace, tolerance, understanding, and collaboration. In doing so, we secure the prosperity of our businesses and contribute to the well-being and resilience of our communities. As we step into the new year, let our commitment to peace be the guiding force that shapes our collective future.