As my term of office as President of Limerick Chamber comes to an end, I would like to extend my personal thanks to all those who have listened, commented and supported our efforts to raise the bar of our expectations for Limerick, to lead the debate, to help influence political, business and wider stakeholder support in favour of what Limerick deserves and not to be afraid to be the warrior in the arena as against on the sidelines. There is a lot happening in Limerick at the moment and Limerick Chamber is proud to have played it’s part in shaping it’s future.

At the Limerick Chamber AGM last night, I outlined the Chamber activities over the past 12 months. The biggest success I believe has been the increased sense of pride and confidence both within the Chamber board and executive as well as within the broader business community in the opportunity that Limerick is now presented with. The following is a press release issued today on my behalf reflecting the challenges we have but more importantly the opportunity we face and the optimism I personally have in the future of Limerick.

Reform required if Limerick  economy is to avoid going beyond point of no return

Forward thinking and some radical reform will be crucial if Limerick and the Mid-West region are to avoid being left behind economically, the outgoing President of Limerick Chamber stated at its Annual General Meeting on Tuesday night.

In his final address at the end of a dynamic two-year tenure as President, Kieran MacSweeney said, however, that he remains optimistic that a new era will dawn for Limerick but that, in addition to this reform, a master-plan is required and needs to be driven by a new single authority for the city.

“I still believe that Limerick has significant challenges to overcome. Limerick City is, regrettably, still a commercial black-spot today and is challenged economically. Some would say it is at a tipping point and we must not allow challenges we now face to tip us beyond the point of no return.

“I am, however, most definitely optimistic because the need is so great and the political will and impetus, as evidenced on recent initiatives and pronouncements on the local government issue, on the Opera Centre and on Regeneration, is there.

“But Limerick needs a fresh, creative and vibrant master plan to bring all this and more together. That master plan must capture and seek to maximise our strengths, in areas such as heritage, arts and culture; in our sporting success, on and off the field; in education; in industries such as technology, agriculture/agri food and medical devices.

“We need to set ourselves, in that master plan, a target of becoming THE location of choice to live, to work and socialize in on this side of the island – a location that can become a beacon for foreign direct investment both in the city centre and in its suburbs.

“To make this happen, we need the courage, foresight and conviction; to put the best interests of the city ahead of the selfish protection of the status quo. This will include some radical reform, even of institutions that were real drivers in another era but that, although well-intentioned, are past their sell-by date today and not necessarily giving Limerick and the Mid-West region the competitive edge it needs and deserves in these most challenging of times.”

Mr MacSweeney said that responsibility for the master-plan should be tasked to a single economic and enterprise development function within the new single authority and would include holding the national agencies of IDA and Enterprise Ireland accountable for specific job creation targets for Limerick City.

The outgoing President said that job creation and enterprise support has remained the number one priority for the Chamber over the past year as evidenced by the creation of the National Franchise Centre which has already been responsible for the creation of 15 businesses and 20 jobs. A second cohort of 23 participants are developing their business plans to launch new businesses later this year.

Local Government Reform, he continued, has been a key focus for the Chamber whose decision to take the lead on this subject has been a key factor in the Government’s decision to adopt the recommendations of the Brosnan report and appoint Denis Brosnan to oversee the implementation of the new single authority for Limerick City and county.

The Chamber, he said, has consistently been a strong voice for rates reduction in the City but regretted the level of reduction this year. “We were the first to look for a 25% reduction. This level of reduction is now accepted as the level necessary for the city to be competitive. We are disappointed with this year’s rate reduction for the city but we take some heart from our recent meeting with Minister Phil Hogan and his commitment to reduce the rates in line with the current county rates.”

Mr MacSweeney said that other highlights of the past 12 months included the establishment of a City Centre Policing Committee, led by the chamber and partnering with the traders and Gardai, and the continued growth of the Limerick Chamber managed Milk Market, which had a conservatively estimated 500,000 plus visitors.

Mr MacSweeney will be succeeded as President of Limerick Chamber by Gordon Kearney. Gordon’s father Pat was President in 1998.  Head of Development at Limerick Institute of Technology Mr Fergal Barr is the Chamber’s incoming Vice President.