Bureaucracy and infrastructure issues threaten Ireland’s export-led recovery

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Excessive bureaucracy and an infrastructure shortfall at Irish ports could threaten Ireland’s ability to attract major multi-national investment and ignite an export-led economic recovery, a major Irish ports conference at Thomond Park, Limerick heard today.

Speaking at the Irish Ports Association annual conference, which was opened by Transport Minister Noel Dempsey and Northern Ireland MLA and Minister for Regional Development Conor Murphy, CEO of hosts Shannon Foynes Port Company Patrick Keating said that ports are a key link in the supply chain for multi-nationals and with the right infrastructure can help facilitate economic recovery. However, unless some critical issues are addressed for Irish ports, we could fail to capture critical foreign direct investment in the years ahead.

“The Department of Transport Ports Policy Review Document states that 99% of all trade passes through Irish seaports and it is absolutely critical that Irish ports can upgrade infrastructure as required and not be hamstrung by bureaucracy as they are at the moment if the predicted export-led economic recovery is to take shape.

“For foreign direct investment to remain here and to be attracted here, it is critical that our ports function to maximum capabilities. Ports are a central link in the supply chain for multi-nationals and, indeed, our own indigenous exporters and importers but the chain is only as good as its weakest link and will break if we do not maintain and upgrade it constantly.

“Irish ports need to be cutting-edge in a global economy and two of the biggest investments planned to bring Irish Ports to that level in recent times have been denied by An Bord Pleanala. These refusals, for example, have denied a total investment of €300m on the type of infrastructure projects that are necessary to enhance national infrastructure. We fully respect the planning process but in order to stimulate economic growth, investment must be accommodated while recognising environmental and other concerns . If we cannot expand our ports, we will not be able to handle trade in and out of the country at the level we and exporters/importers would want. “

Mr Keating’s comments were endorsed by Chairperson of the host company, Ms Kay McGuinness, who proposed the establishment of a special inter-Departmental group to expedite the resolution of such problems. “In an era where achieving investment is difficult but vital, the delay in obtaining permissions crucial for projects to proceed can no longer be tolerated.

“Here in this region, where Shannon Foynes Port Company is a key economic driver, we still labour under the handicap of having inadequate road and rail access. The latter, in particular, would be regarded elsewhere as vital to a complex of ports vitally dependent on bulk traffics for its well-being and future development.”

“Too often the role of our ports is taken for granted. In particular, infrastructural projects in other areas of economic activity enjoy far greater recognition than those involved in the ongoing operation and development of our ports.

“Special fast track planning procedures are in place for certain developments deemed to be of vital importance to our national economic well-being. Strangely enough the fields of foreshore development and other planning matters involved in modernising our ports do not enjoy such benefits, despite the critical role these ports are expected to play in an export led economic recovery.”

Opening the conference, Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said it is vital that ports are in a position to facilitate a return to economic growth and to make their contribution to improving national competitiveness. “Ports are operating in a rapidly changing commercial, technological and regulatory environment. The national policy framework within which the ports operate needs to keep pace with this change,” he said.