Chamber President, Paula Cogan Speech at Cork Chamber 2020 Annual Dinner

Paula Cogan Speech

Lord Mayor, Tánaiste, Minister, Deputy Mayor of Cork County, Leader of Fianna Fáil, Excellencies & Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Public Representatives, Distinguished Guests, fellow Members of Cork Chamber …..Ladies and Gentlemen, as President of Cork Chamber you are all most welcome to our 2020 Annual Dinner.

There’s lots of talk about polls, percentages, winners and losers this evening. Tomorrow, discreetly and privately each of us will cast a vote that will determine the future of Cork and of Ireland.

But every day, here, nationally and globally, people are casting their vote for or against living and investing in Cork. These people equally define the future of Cork and Ireland. They take their lead from the way in which we choose to shape our environment, society and economy.

Let’s talk polls, and percentage points. 14,000 additional people have chosen to build their careers in FDI companies in Cork over the past 9 years and countless thousands have joined the momentum of our indigenous innovators. Companies have chosen to invest, their people have chosen to live here, their families to grow here. We must continue as a society to invest in our value add, our talent, our creativity and the strong foundations that uphold this City region.

Fifteen years ago, 80 percent of people said they chose a job before a location.  Today, 64 percent choose the location before they choose the company or the job. Quality of life, placemaking, culture and economic resilience are the defining factors.

Simple things make all the difference. Traffic lights that change for pedestrians. Room on a footpath for a pram or wheelchair. Bikes and safe spaces to ride them. Buses and trains that arrive on time, and with a frequency that makes the timetable irrelevant. Park and rides that remove cars from our inner city. Green spaces. Trees. Riverbank walkways. Play areas for children. Connectivity to other cities – safe and fast route corridors. Galleries, cafes and retailers that open late, and on Sundays. New places to live in our City. Old places reimagined. Homes instead of houses. Communities instead of neighbourhoods.

Enough time has been spent making do with incremental change. Tortuous planning and funding delays already frustrate progress on existing commitments.  We need game changers now. We cannot afford as a society, as an economy, or environmentally to roll back on progress. Exceptional plans are in place in Ireland 2040, the National Development Plan and National Planning Framework. The Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy contains 3.5 billion for sustainable transport in Cork. This is welcome, but Cork needs the first 500 million now to deliver quick wins after a decade of underinvestment. The National Transport Authority needs a team solely focussed on Cork and this can only be achieved by a team based in a Cork office.

But the focus cannot be on Government alone. This year Cork Chamber is planting 200 indigenous trees. Next year we will plant 200 more. In 10 years over 2,000 of these trees will be growing in Cork. For context, Cork Chamber is an SME, employing twenty people, a not for profit with a steady but modest income. This is just one of the steps we are taking. The point being, as a business community taking steps together we can have a massive impact on the quality of life of our people.

This time last year we launched our appeal for €100,000 with the commitment of Social Innovation Fund to match it with a further €100,000. Tonight we are immensely proud to have opened our Sustainable Cork Fund of €200,000 supported by our members. It will help people to deliver on bright ideas and plant the seeds of a more creative, resilient and sustainable place. It will support projects focused on Climate Action and Environmental Awareness, Community Inclusion and Cohesion, Sustainable Employment and Economic Development. We must empower a thriving Cork. To empower, we must support socially conscious and innovative people.

These actions do not mean we are better people. It simply reflects a power shift. We stand more to gain from acting than we do from idle delay and talk. Consumer demand is transforming. Investment decisions are rapidly evolving. Cork and Ireland’s competitive advantage will increasingly be weighted on our ability to build a fair society that values people, nature and place. This is where the brightest want to live. This is where the employers who vie for their talent wish to invest. This is the space where Ireland will continue to advance. We cannot afford to simply catch up. We must move swiftly and lead.

The race is competitive, but are we are training like amateurs? Timelines come and go. Our neighbours become the global leaders in offshore wind while our powerplants creak. We talk about public transport but build no bus lanes. We set density targets but we don’t enhance construction viability. Cork slowly begins to sprawl. If we want to avoid playing like amateurs we need to stop acting like amateurs. Let’s put it simply. If over the lifespan of the next national Government and current local Government, we do not comprehensively deliver cycle and public transport infrastructure, we have lost. If over the same time we have not delivered a subsidy regime that shifts our energy supply to renewable production, we have failed. If we don’t create vibrant communities in our urban areas, we are consigning another generation to a life spent sitting in traffic, killing productivity, harming air quality, and damaging quality of life. A pious objection culture blocks our progress. Strong leadership and teamwork is our ally.

In 2005 Cork proudly stood as the European capital of culture. Today we continue to celebrate this legacy and Philip King will share his wisdom shortly. 15 years from this milestone, our recent economic trends data supports culture for all with 92% confirming that art in public spaces enhances the experience for residents and visitors alike. Public art amplifies local identity, inspires creativity and beautifies our communities. With a Placemaking Fund and Ireland’s only Customer Service Charter we continue to evolve our urban experience. Without a doubt, we are in an envious position with a strong tradition of arts and culture, a tradition that forms a central thread of Cork’s story. The legacy of 2005 continues to evolve.

By 2025 we must put another great legacy in place.  In 2025 Cork should celebrate the honour of being the European Green Capital. Joining the ranks of Stockholm, Bristol, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Essen, Oslo and Lahti. I set a goal so that we may measure success. I list the previous award holders to show that in doing so we will not lead the way. We will simply catch up. I call on all stakeholders, the City and County, the next Government, the NTA, TII and our members to back this objective forcefully and with urgency. The award is not an end goal. It is a means of measuring first steps. For Cork to differentiate, for Cork to be internationally competitive, nothing short of excellence will suffice.

Climate change, and the resultant turbulence on global society and markets is not something that is just topical. It is something that will define generations and define an era. Between us all, we have the power to be the change. To drive and demand climate action. There can be no downside to confidently pursuing a better quality of life for our City region.

For Cork to be the best place for business, it must aggressively and relentlessly improve quality of life. It is not an aspiration. It is a necessity. Ireland must re-establish its sense of place on the global stage. 50 years ago neutrality, diplomacy, poetry and culture were the USP’s of a small island nation establishing its economic identity. We have now firmly established our economic capabilities.

Whether in politics, sport or economics only the losers get to rest. We are running with the fastest and today the game moves faster than ever before. Our opponents have firm goals and defined bullish visions of progress. We must be clear on OUR OWN vision or we will lose our identity.

Tomorrow we go the polls. On Monday we go to work and our children go back to school. In time we will have a new Government. Their every move will be judged. Ireland must win. And a successful, progressive, and sustainable Cork is the metric that will define us.

Tonight as we gather in this historic building of City Hall which mirrors the resilience of the people of Cork as it rose from the ashes after the burning of Cork in December 1920.

I conclude with the words of a great Cork patriot Terence MacSwiney

Our future history shall be more glorious that that of any contemporary state.  We shall look for prosperity, no doubt, but let our enthusiasm be for beautiful living – we shall build up our strength, yet not for conquest, but as a pledge of brotherhood and a defence of the weaker one of the earth. We shall take pride in our institutions, not only as guaranteeing the stability of the state but as securing the happiness of the citizens and we shall lead Europe again as we led it of old.”

Words spoken 100 years ago as appropriate today as then.

** TOAST – I’d like to propose a toast to the members and guests of Cork Chamber.

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