Tánaiste, Ministers, Lord Mayor, Mayor of Cork County, Leader of the Opposition, members of the Oireachtas, Distinguished Guests, fellow members of Cork Chamber, Ladies and Gentlemen, as President of Cork Chamber you are all most welcome.
We come together tonight to celebrate the progress of 200 years, and to discuss our vision for the future. As a UCC history graduate, I am proud to say that John Cogan a city Vintner was elected to the first Chamber committee in 1819 and I continue that link tonight in both my role as President and my profession in hospitality.
My own history with Cork Chamber began in 1994 when John Cashell asked me to join a mini-enterprise group to encourage future business leaders in our schools. I’ve had the pleasure of working directly with seven former presidents and I would like to thank them all for bringing their own individuality and passion to the role. It is what makes Cork Chamber much more than a business organisation.
It falls on me, as President to continue this exceptional legacy. My role is to work with members, our Board, executive and stakeholders to deliver for Cork at a pivotal time in its history. Together as a Chamber we seek to support an influential membership who drive a thriving Cork that is the best place for business. Indeed, the original Cork Chamber committee defined their role “to protect our rights as merchants and to better the general trade of Cork.” Our reason for being has been consistent for 200 years.
So who do we represent today? Everyone from FDI giants to tech start ups. Our membership is 1,200 strong, representing 100,000 people and is the most diverse its ever been. Our members bring the spirit of entrepreneurship and ambition to a City region economy, equivalent in scale to the next three City regions combined, and a natural counterpart to our brilliant capital. It is not just about where they want to work, it’s about also how they want to live, raise their families and actively contribute as citizens. The commitment to progress is continuous – it’s the focus that evolves.
At the first Thought Leaders Council meeting of 2019 in the 200th year of the Chamber, we held a workshop with our Chamber Partners to explore our ongoing advocacy work on behalf of the business community. For 2019 we agreed to champion public transport, housing, international connectivity, skills and competitiveness among others. But most notably, there was passion in the room for one specific topic: Sustainability & Climate Change.
Much of our ongoing work already complements this agenda; our support for public and sustainable transport, our submissions in support of green energy,
our support for climate adaptation measures such as flood defences and our campaign to create high density accommodation in our urban areas to name a few. Our colleagues in Dublin Chamber tackle the same issues on a daily basis. There is too much to list, yet we can do so much more.
The business definition of sustainable development is changing from an emphasis on infinite economic growth, to one of economic responsibility, to a maturity of approach that reflects the full ecosystem in which business operates. We discuss a resilient economy and a fair society. We watch other countries lurch politically to the right or left. We must avoid this. We monitor countries that turn their backs on the environment and study countries that are decades ahead of our own on sustainability. We must catch up with the latter. Right now in 2019, if we are not fair and sustainable, we are not doing the right thing. Tomorrow, if we are not fair and sustainable, we will not be competitive.
In early 2019 we also gathered a group of people who define the future of Cork. Over 1,000 students joined our Future Forms programme facilitated by our friends in the Glucksman gallery. Coming together they created art. The written word, sculpture, image and sound. The focal point of every object and discussion was the future of Cork. The vision they painted was green, a high-density city region with places to play. Green architecture and sustainable transport. A place that is inclusive, welcoming, active in citizenship and fair to all. Our young are sometimes referred to as future leaders but it is clear from Future Forms and events such as Cork’s climate March that theyare leaders right now. The challenge to this, is that the fundamental changes required to address climate crisis and create a sustainable, resilient economy our still in our hands and not theirs.
Therefore, with the validation of our partners, members and young leaders sustainability must frame every aspect of our work. We must look at progress through a new lens and identify new opportunities. For example, traditional infrastructure such as roads must come under scrutiny. Where there are glaring deficiencies, we must obviously invest. Yet we must also promote the evolution of how we build and use our roads. They must be considered as transport corridors and not simply as facilitators of single car usage. Where new, we must provide for sustainable and public transport. Where old we must be bold in re-imagining their use. Ultimately, we must investigate and debate every aspect of infrastructure delivery through the lens of sustainability.
To succeed we must deliver on our short-term goals. We must deliver on the Climate Action Plan prioritising impactful areas such as offshore wind in our Government. The €3billion Urban and Rural Regeneration funds must be allocated in line with Ireland 2040. They must match Corks current and future scale with investment that is proportionate. Density of accommodation is key and must be enabled by these funds and through measures to enhance viability. Spatial planning is critical to sustainability and to undermine it by any means flies in the face of Ireland's climate credibility.
Mobility must be taken seriously. Bus Connects must get underway immediately and deliver bus corridors and park and rides for Cork. We are now two years into this 10-year plan without a kilometre of additional bus lane or planning application for a single park and ride. We have not added cycle infrastructure of note since the depths of the last economic cycle. We have commuter railway that is only hindered in growth by the lack of frequency of the service. Look to Little Island where 66% of employees do not need their car during the day. Then look at the Ballincollig to Carrigaline bus where a 15 minutes frequency has led to a 70% increase in journeys. Cork people are crying out for sustainable transport investment now. Can you even imagine credibility or functionality of Dublin today without the Luas, DART or Bus Connects?
Lack of delivery is utterly frustrating, but commitment to Ireland 2040 is without question. Undesirable as it may be, cost of delivery will change and timelines may be frustrated, but commitment to Ireland’s second largest city region, a region with a current scale and growth trajectory equivalent to the next three city regions combined must be unwavering. Cork will not stand at the back of the queue and neither should any of Ireland’s 5 City regions.
It is entirely possible that the opportunity to improve the sustainability and therefore the competitiveness of our economy will pass us by and that we will simply be left behind. The private sector and Government must both collaborate and openly compete tp be the one that leads the way. Everyone has a role to play. Everyone is accountable and to do so we must openly set out our stall.
As President of the Chamber, I am also the Chair of the Board, and I am proud to say that our Board, in collaboration with Chambers Ireland actively supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
We focus on FIVE in particular:
SDG 5: Achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls SDG 8: Promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all SDG 9: Building resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation SDG 11: Making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable SDG 13: Taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
We believe that our support must be urgent, meaningful and measurable, and the development goals will heavily influence the content and direction of our 2020 operations and advocacy on behalf of members. In 2020 the Chamber will have a dedicated carbon budget to formalise and build on our environmental accreditations. In 2020 the Chamber will formalise a programme of sustainability events to add rigour to the multiple events and initiatives already supported. Our training will continue to build green focus. Our advocacy work will be framed by the SDGs in it’s entirety guided by a sustainability Council. We will not engage in greenwash. We will be accountable and visible in our role.
In 2019 Cork Chamber committed to raising one hundred thousand euro to create a fund to drive social innovation. Tonight I confirm that we have delivered on our commitment and that it will be matched with an equal sum by Social Innovation Fund Ireland.
Together we will bring two hundred thousand euros to bear on creative social projects that will drive the sustainable agenda for Cork from 2020 onwards.
These steps are simple when broken down into constituent parts but is the decision to formalise them across our every action that is noteworthy. It is about acting responsibly and delivering. Sustainability is no longer an add-on or a nice-to-have. It must be integral to our every action.
The sustainable agenda is Cork’s opportunity. Can we catch up with our northern European city region counterparts? Can we be Ireland’s greenest City? Do we wish to be carbon neutral? Why don’t we talk about carbon negative? Exporting green energy to Europe? It is probable that questions of this nature were traditionally raised by an environmentally conscience minority. They are now questions for us all.
Our predecessors have given us City regions to be proud of. There’s no shortage of pride in Cork or Dublin but action what is now required. Our next generation will not forgive us and their appetite for radical change is so much greater than anything we imagined ourselves. We must work harder to elevate our vision and to align it with theirs. Their vision is clear and it is sustainable.
I hope that one day it is a vision that we can enjoy together.