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Candidates Respond To Cobh Chamber Questions

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The following questions were recently put to Cork East Candidates by the Cobh  &  Harbour Chamber. Every response received is below on behalf of their business members

Dear Candidate

Following a meeting of Cobh & Harbour Chamber members it was agreed to put together a declaration  of matters of concern which we hope all candidates can address prior to the up-coming election.  Listed below are the main areas of concern for the business community of the Cobh and Harbour Area.

Item 1: Broadband

Broadband services on The Great Island are very limited. Although the Great Island is listed as broadband-enabled there are many ‘pockets’ on the Island, which due to antiquated cabling, cannot facilitate broadband.  In some areas where it is available there is consistent interruption and dropping of the signal. This has had an adverse effect when attempting to attract new industry to the area.  It is our understanding Fibre Optic Cabling is available in a neighbouring town and that there are no plans to bring this to The Great Island. The importance of this cannot be understated.  It is vital to attract new industry and to sustain existing businesses that reliable high powered broadband is available in the town.

Item 2: Commercial Rates/ Planning Charges and Local Authority Charges

The Cobh & Harbour Chamber are most concerned about the high level of Commercial Rates for businesses in Cobh and the Harbour area.  Other towns including Midleton have had commercial rates decreased over the years however it is a hard fought battle to keep the costs from increasing annually.

The high cost of Planning Charges which are levied on new start-up businesses is also a major problem in the area as it is a negative for any developers when looking for areas to set up a new business in Cobh and the Harbour area or for existing businesses when looking to expand.

In addition to these items we would like your views and intentions on the following matters.

  • Fota Road R624 – The up grading of this road has been an issue for the past decade.  Although much has been promised in the past nothing of substance has been done to improve this vital road.
  • Spike Island – more transparency with regard to the development of Spike Island as a Tourist Destination.
  • Cobh is a designated Failte Ireland Angling hub – how can this be exploited for the good of the town.
  • Scott Tallon Walker ‘String of Pearls’ development plan  for Cobh –  with regard to proposals at Cork Dockyard – how to progress same.
  • The containment & landscaping of the slag heap at  Haulbowline
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JOINT SUBMISSION OF LABOUR PARTY GENERAL ELECTION CANDIDATES CLLR JOHN MULVIHILL AND SEAN SHERLOCK TD

BROADBAND

Behind Fianna Fail’s rhetoric of the ‘Smart Economy’ is the reality of Ireland’s poor performance in almost every international league table. Labour’s broadband strategy will extend next generation broadband speeds across Ireland, allowing us to embrace cloud computing, e-health, e-transport, e-learning, improve on our energy efficiency and position Ireland as a world leader in communications innovation.

In order to deliver on a world class broadband service, Labour is proposing the establishment of a company, NetCo:

NetoCo will allow investors to share the risk of investing in a new network. This cooperative company. This would be a vehicle for the roll out of next generation broadband, connecting the majority of users to fibre optic cables which will allow speeds of 100 Mpb/s and greater.

This network  would replace the current system in place and would own passive elements of the infrastructure, but would not own a monopoly

Such a cooperative systems have been very successful in countries such as Switzerland and Netherlands.

RATES

With regards to rates, Labour will enact our proposed legislation to abolish upward only rent reviews for all commercial leases as a matter of urgent priority.

Moreover, Labour will appoint an interim Commercial Rents Ombudsman with powers to adjudicate on rents that have the potential to cause a business to fail, without undertaking a costly court process.

Furthermore, Labour will retain the existing Retail Planning Guidelines and maintain the retail planning cap.

Finally, Labour will encourage local authorities to introduce differentiated, time limited rates to facilitate new business start-ups. This is an issue that has already been raised on the ground by our Labour Party Councillors with Cork County Council. There is a clear disparity on rates between some parts of Cork County and others. We believe discretion has to be exercised on this issue to allow for a rate reduction. This will help to sustain existing business owners who are struggling because of a downturn in business while at the same time encouraging start ups. Rates are a big consideration for anyone considering opening a business and in many cases have proved to be the deciding factor.

We will look to prioritising this issue to protect jobs and town centres. Businesses are carrying an unfair burden in funding local government. If we don’t look after this sector then we will see a whole raft of closures that will give way to a dominant supermarket and retail chain culture. We risk killing vibrant town centres and further adding to the live register when this is the very sector that needs our support because of the potential for local job creation and to ensure it can maintain existing jobs.

Fota Road R624

When Deputy Brendan Howlin was Minister for Environment in the ‘90s he gave a commitment to provide funding for this road on foot of intensive local lobbying on the part of Cllr John Mulvihill. Funding was provided in 1996/97 but subsequently dried up on Fianna Fáil entering Government. We are committed to working together to securing funding for works to upgrade this vital road artery

Spike Island

We will work with and to ensure the engagement of relevant stakeholders with a view to developing Spike Island as a premier tourist destination in Cork East. The tourism industries play a pivotal role in the Irish economy, particularly in regional economic activity. The Labour Party believes that the tourism sectors can be drivers of Irish economic recovery and is capable of creating new job which will is key to Ireland’s economic recovery. Our party has outlined plans to upgrade the Discover Ireland website. This will involve greater connectivity of tourist accommodation, attractions, transport and hospitality offerings, thereby providing potential customers with all the information they require within one site. Our aim is to ensure the Cork East area including Cobh is adequately marketed in this regard.

Cobh is a designated Failte Ireland Angling hub

We believe there is huge scope to increase visitor numbers to Cobh to engage in Angling Activities but there has not been sufficient support forthcoming from Southern Fisheries Ireland. We believe this body must take a more hands on approach with regard to helping harness the angling potential in the area and work in partnership with Failte Ireland to achieve this aim. There appears to be a focus on spending money on promotional activities overseas as opposed to on home grown initiatives. We want to see funding channelled into local initiatives for example local fishing festivals in the Harbour area.

Scott Tallon Walker ‘String of Pearls’ development plan  for Cobh

We feel there has to be more engagement on the part of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland to progress development on this site and we will be leaning heavily on these bodies in this regard. This site represents a huge opportunity for green energy projects. There has to be sustained political pressure to ensure development of the site.

The containment & landscaping of the slag heap at Haulbowline.

The Labour Party’s record on this is well known. We have lobbied the government consistently on this issue as well as seeking the commissioning of a baseline health study. In recent days, Green Party TD John Gormley cited a €50 million spend on Haulbowline. To our mind a lot of money has been wasted that could have been channelled toward toward the containment and landscaping of the slag heap. We will continue to exert political pressure at government level to have the necessary works carried out.

Regards

John Mulvihill & Sean Sherlock

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Response from David O’Keeffe

Item1.  I totally concur with the provision of reliable broadband to every area in Ireland.  This is an
issue of great importance particularly for businesses.

Item 2.  Commercial Rates.  The same commercial rates should be in place across the country.  I can fully
understand the difficulties faced by businessess having to pay their rates bill given the current
economic situation.

Item 2.  Planning Charges.  Cork County Council have reviewed this and have agreed a major reduction
on planning charges.

In relation to the other issues raised they are relevant to Cork County Council and I will pursue these issues with
the Council as they are of great importance to the Cobh area.

Thank you for your kind invitation to attend your meeting on 15 February.  Unfortunately I cannot attend as
I have already committed myself to attending anothe rmeeting on the same night.  Please convey my apologies
for my inability to attend.

Regards

Brian O’Keeffe

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Reply by Claire Cullinane

You and your members know my passion for our town and as an active member of the commercial community I have played my part in many groups and organisations since opening my business here several years ago. I am a novice to this political arena I am wadding my way through all the issues on your questionnaire as well as the limitless requests for pledges from a very diverse range of groups and organisations throughout the constituency.

As you know I am an independent who has signed the Peoples Convention contract. I was selected and elected by those who joined  in the open meetings and debates we held all across the East Cork area over the last two months. Cobh being the first meeting arranged after the launch of the movement back in Dec. Many questions were addressed at these meetings. The Peoples Convention reply to all of these is the same..

It is time for people to take back their right to have a real say in their own country. Not to tick a box to empower an individual to think for them. Nor ask a candidate to take on the overwhelming amount of issues impossible to achieve in their  term of office and basically to  set themselves up for a  fall OR a good pension! Neither should we ask them  to trade their vote on a local issue for a much more serious national one ( Kerry potholes come to mind! ) Thus becoming, at least to some, a saviour,  a leader or a hero . But at what cost???????????

I will not lie nor misrepresent myself in any way to get myself a vote. If I do get into office I will engage with all the constituents who are willing to attend these meetings  to debate and discuss the upcoming votes in Dáil Eireann taking only their mandate to Dublin . I could easily give you my personal comments on all of the issues on your list but the truth is that is not the job of a TD as defined by the constitution.

The Dáil is supposed to be made up of the Peoples Representatives. Then it is up to the people to tell me how they would wish  to vote on every major issue effecting our country at this time. As well, as which issues they would like brought forward in the future and how to vote on same. Mandate from and for the people!

We have all been very good at giving out about Irish politics and naming and blaming those who looked after themselves and left us hanging out to dry! We too must take responsibility for the part we played. We were lazy and left it to the TD to get on with it but never checked if the job was being done to our expectation. I accepted the choice of the people of East Cork, who selected me to run, only because I believe it  is now time for a new era in politics and a new type of TD. One who will  Educate and Communicate with constituents  PRIOR to every major vote thus giving each and every man and woman the opportunity to express their opinion and be part of the outcome.

I know this is new  way and may take time to catch on but I also believe that it is the only hope to restore our democracy and re-ignite the healthy fire in belly of the Irish people. The race that is respected all over the world for its spirit. We, in the Peoples Convention ,are showing people a new way, new hope but it WILL require their contribution and input. I have great faith in people and always have had in the citizens of our town. It is the Irish people, ALL of them who will forge our future and find solutions and restore this country to a state of excellence not a handful of individuals making deals and selling us out while our backs were turned.

I would consider it an honour to represent the people of East Cork and especially the people of my home town of Cobh in 31st Dáil. A time of change in politics all over the world. But for that I would need to know that they were with me, engaged and responsible for their own future. No more victims! But rather getting up and being heard  to make all the changes we need to make to guarantee our town meets its full potential.

This response is, I am sure, not what you were expecting but it is both my explanation and expectation of a new time that is presenting us with an opportunity to create a real shift in Irish politics. Change without violence,  without sacrifice , without taking to the streets or worse  without believing that we are done and the death nell is ringing!

Thank you for taking the time to read this response. I look forward, win, loose or draw, to meeting you and your members at future meetings of the Peoples Convention in Cobh.

Your sincerely,

Claire Cullinane

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Reply from Michael Ahern

Broadband

Under the Government’s €223 million National Broadband Scheme, we are now at near Universal coverage.  A new €18 million Rural scheme was due to be rolled out to deliver coverage to the remaining 1% – pockets such as those pockets referred to in Cork.The Government secured €14 million from Brussels under the European Economic Recover Plan through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development for this.

The Scheme is ready to go and when it is up and running it will support applications from people in rural areas who can prove that they tried every available means to get Broadband and failed.

Commercial Rates

Local Authorities are under a statutory obligation to levy rates on any property used for commercial purposes in accordance with the details entered in the valuation lists.

However, former Minister for the Environment John Gormley consistently urged local authorities to excersise restraint  in setting rates in their Budgets in order to support competitiveness in the economy, nationally and locally, and to protect the interests of communities.

A significant number of local authorities accordingly decreased their ARV for 2010 while a majority kept the same rate as 2009.  The current Minister for the Environment Eamon o’Cuiv expects the same positive response from the sector this year and the information obtained  by the Department to date in respect of 2011 suggests this trend is continuing.

Many Local authorities recognise that these are difficult times for many businesses and have taken a number of initiatives to promote and support enterprise and economic development, including in particular the establishment of business support units or equivalent arrangements.

Local authorities should  be required to to improve their efficiency, including through implementing relevant recommendations of the Local Government Efficiency Group, to reduce where possible, the level of charges charged to businesses.  Fine Gael and Labour are in control of the majority of local authorities around the country and the setting of rates.    Fine Gael intend  to further cut subsidies to Local Government which means councils will have to increase their charges.

Fianna Fail  proposes the removal of development charges for any new commercial units that create jobs.

Fota Road

For the years 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 no applications were made for capital funding.   On 6th September 2010 Cork County Council made an application to the National Roads Authority for Capital funding for the Fota/Cobh Road.   The estimated cost of the project is put at €57.5 million.

Spike Island

In July 2009 Spike Island was handed over to Cork County Council by Minister Eamon O’Cuiv. Spike Island has, I believe, the potential to become a major tourism and heritage centre.   The Spike Island Steering Group is developing a master plan which, hopefully, will unlock the potential of the island and give Cobh one of the leading tourist destinations in Ireland.

Cobh a designated Failte Ireland Angling hub – how can this be exploited for the good of the town

In 2011 Failte Ireland will invest over €11 million oin the form of direct supports and advice for tourism enterprises nationally.
The key elements of Failte Ireland’s enterprise development supports for Ireland, including County Cork  will include:

  • A comprehensive €3.6 million Business Support Programme that will help key clients to grow their ‘top line’ while also tackling

their cost base through a combination of restructuring debt  and building greater liquidity into their businesses, as well as permanently re-engineering their business processes.

  • A suite of Management and Skills Development training programmes to key clients.
  • Measures to better develop, manage and promote key  tourism destinations, including promotion of networks and partnerships with trade groups in key destinations.
  • Strong e-Business Supports to underpin Failte Ireland and industry marketing activities, the delivery of enhanced visitor services and the availability of new online learning tools for industry clients.
  • Failte Ireland are continuing to roll out a Key Account Management plan for tourism businesses in Cork with particular focus on those businesses in key tourism destinations.   Failte Ireland has met with 45 key accounts, on a number of occasions in Cork to date, to assess their business and identify their needs and organise the services to assist them.
  • Under the Festivals and Events initiative Failte Ireland invested €500,00 in national and local festivals and events in Co. Cork  in 2010.
  • Failte Ireland has developed a number of specialist tourism hubs in the county.   The purpose of these hubs is to encourage visitors to come to the area.   Failte Ireland works with the busuinesses involved in the hubs on a range of supports assisting them to develop their businesses.

‘String of Pearls’ development plan

The Government’s Infrastructure Investment Priorities 2010-2016, published in Summer 2010 proposed the establishment of the  Gateway Innovation Fund to support innovative and locally co-funded projects that will promote the economic development of their area

Michael Ahern

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Repy from David Stanton

Improved broadband infrastructure is a national policy objective for Fine Gael as we believe the quality of broadband available has a direct impact on Ireland’s competitiveness.

Cork County Council is responsible for setting commercial rates and the improvement Fota Road R624.  Regarding the development and Spike Island, as Cork County Council are now responsible for management of the island. I believe the Council should be supported in their efforts to develop it as a tourist destination as should their efforts to develop other areas of Cobh.

I am awaiting the publication of the Government report on the future of Haulbowline, this was due to be completed before Christmas but has yet to be finalised.

Best regards,

David Stanton

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