“Strong regions make for a strong national economy”
Mary Considine, CEO, Shannon Group, is clear on what is required to boost the economy in the West of Ireland as the country begins to re-open over the coming months. Speaking to Marie Donnellan, Director, EY Galway as part of the EY and Galway Chamber Webinar Business Series, Ms Considine said, “Now more than ever we need to accelerate balanced regional development, and as we open up our country we are looking to ensure that key vital services for business and tourism are restored back into the airports outside of Dublin.
“It’s really important that we start to grow our economy in a balanced way. There is a huge opportunity for the regions now; strong regions make for a strong national economy. Like any crisis, new industries and new opportunities will emerge and we’re well set up in the West of Ireland to capitalise on those if we work together. Let’s seize these opportunities and see how we can learn, diversify and grow.”
The free webinar series was launched at the beginning of June by EY and the Galway Chamber and aims to shine a light on leading business people in the West region, who will offer their knowledge, insights and expertise on what local businesses can do to not just survive, but thrive following the Covid-19 pandemic, as the country begins to ease restrictions.
Ms Considine calls on people to support local businesses and to use local services, including local airports, to aid recovery, and for businesses to work together:
“We are reliant on international visitors, so we need huge buoyancy in the domestic market to make up some of the shortfall in the international market. There also is an opportunity for businesses in the West of Ireland to align and package their products together to be attractive to the market, rather than everybody doing their own thing. Businesses working together will be crucial for recovery.”
Recovery: Focus, Determination and Drive
While recovery will be slow, Ms Considine is quick to acknowledge the ongoing attractiveness of the region, citing the Wild Atlantic Way, its educated workforce and the high calibre of foreign direct investment as key elements of this:
“Almost 40% of FDI in Ireland is within our catchment area, and that’s no coincidence. They are here because of the connectivity, because of the university sector and because of the way of life and all we have to offer, and that continues. We’ve taken a really bad blow during this crisis, and we have a long way to come back, but we will come back. As a nation we are very entrepreneurial so [we will recover], it just requires real focus, determination and drive.”
Aviation Task Force
Ms Considine was recently appointed as a member of The Aviation Task Force who made four key recommendations to the government; 1) Begin to lift international travel restrictions by 1 July; 2) Lift the quarantine requirement on incoming airline passengers by 1 July; 3) To support the first two measures, finalise and implement in full a national Code of Practice for Safe Air Travel; and 4) In order to mitigate large scale redundancies and job losses confirm continuation of existing financial support measures, including in particular the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme.
With passenger numbers in Shannon airport down 97% for April, and down 95% for May Ms Considine says these measures must be implemented immediately in order to boost the economy and save the summer season.
“If you lose the summer you’ve lost a year, that’s the reality unfortunately. It’s really important that we all work together and ensure that we can get the airways open again and we are delighted that on the 1st of July there will be 16 services recommencing with Ryanair.
“We’ve done a terrific job in managing the virus in this country and that’s down to the hard work of every individual. We now need to look at how we can quickly recover our businesses and what measures we need to be put in place to restore confidence and to ensure that we can open up in a safe manner for business.
“It’s not just about passenger numbers through the airport. It’s about the impact of that on tourism, hoteliers, pubs and restaurants. There is a huge interdependency across our economy and that’s why we need a holistic approach to recovery.”
Ms Considine believes it could be 2023 before international travel will be back at 2019 levels in Ireland, particularly with some of our key markets like the US. As such, she calls out the task force’s final two recommendations:
“With the appropriate safety measures in place, we should look to lift travel restrictions and ease quarantine measures. We should particularly look at countries that have similar ‘R’ rate to ourselves and then open up air bridges or air corridors between countries that have the virus under control and are managing it well. That can be kept under review, but we really need to move ahead now in order to save the summer season. Safety is paramount but we have to do this to get the economy going.”
“Continuation of the wage subsidy scheme and the alleviation of commercial rates for businesses will be very important. Particularly for those badly affected industries like aviation and tourism. In addition to these shorter-term measures, we also need to see long term, targeted support from the government to support businesses.”