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Joint Committee on Transport and Communications debate -
Wednesday, 10 Nov 2021

Port of Cork: Chairperson Designate

The joint committee went into private session at 1.30 p.m. and resumed in public session at 1.50 p.m.

Apologies have been received from Deputies Matthews and Duncan Smith and Senator Craughwell. The purpose of this meeting is to engage with the chairperson designate of the Port of Cork to discuss his strategic priorities in his role and his views on the challenges facing the organisation. On behalf of the committee, I welcome Mr. Michael Walsh, chairperson designate, and Mr. Donal Crowley, company secretary.

Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. If a statement is potentially inflammatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, the witness will be directed to discontinue his or her remarks. It is imperative that witnesses comply with any such direction. There are some limitations to parliamentary privilege for witnesses attending remotely from outside the Leinster House campus. They may not benefit from the same level of immunity to legal proceedings that a witness physically present does. Witnesses participating in this committee session from a jurisdiction outside the State are advised that they should also be mindful of domestic law and how it may apply to the evidence that they give. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

For anyone watching this meeting, members and witnesses now have the option of being physically present in the committee or to join the meeting remotely via Microsoft Teams. I remind members of the constitutional requirement that they must be physically present within the confines of the Leinster House complex in order to participate in public meetings. Reluctantly, I will not permit members to participate where they are not adhering to this constitutional requirement. Therefore, any member who attempts to participate from outside the precincts will reluctantly be asked to leave the meeting. In this regard, I would ask any member partaking via Microsoft Teams, prior to making his or her contribution to the meeting, to confirm that he or she is on the grounds of the Leinster House campus. If attending in the committee room, people are asked to exercise personal responsibility to protect themselves and others from the risk of contracting Covid-19. I strongly advise the practising of good hand hygiene and that people leave at least one vacant seat between them and others in attendance. People should also always maintain an appropriate level of social distancing during and after the meeting. Masks should be worn at all times during the meeting except when speaking.

I apologise to Mr. Walsh for the delay. He is most welcome, and I ask him to make his opening statement.

Mr. Michael Walsh

I thank the Chairperson. Is mór an onóir dom gur mhol an tAire Iompair, an Teachta Eamon Ryan, mé mar chathaoirleach gníomhach Chuan Chorcaí. Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach agus leis an gcoiste as ucht an chuiridh chun caint leo inniu.

It is a great honour to be nominated as chairperson designate of the Port of Cork Company by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan. I thank the Chairperson and the members of the committee for the invitation to speak here. This committee plays a crucial role in guiding policy, and I look forward to hearing the perspectives of and suggestions from committee members following this statement. They will be valuable to me as I commence my role. I commit to bringing all the points raised here back to the full Port of Cork Company board for discussion at our December meeting.

I am a native of Kildare and I have spent my career between the public and private sectors. I am currently responsible for global commercial operations for the US energy technology company Smart Wires, which specialises in delivering electricity infrastructure to enable grid connections for renewables with minimal disruption to the environment. Before taking up my post with Smart Wires, I held senior leadership positions in EirGrid, the ESB and the Irish Wind Energy Association, IWEA, now Wind Energy Ireland, WEI, and I was also a lecturer in University College Dublin, UCD. I have been a member of various corporate boards, including those of Smart Wires Grid Europe, WindEurope and the System Operator for Northern Ireland, SONI, as well as some small private companies. I chair the research advisory committee for the Global Power System Transformation, G-PST, Consortium. I have a PhD in engineering and a masters in business administration, MBA.

Turning to the Port of Cork, it is Ireland’s second-largest port and its designation as a trans-European transport network, TEN-T, core port by the European Commission confirms its importance as a tier 1 port of critical importance as a part of European and Irish infrastructure. The port has recently doubled its container capacity with the construction of a new €100 million container terminal at Ringaskiddy. Due to its favourable location on the south coast of Ireland, its modern deepwater facilities and these recent investments, the Port of Cork is ideally positioned for additional European trading as well as for yet unexploited deep sea shipping services. The port has responded strongly to the challenges arising from Covid-19 over the past two years and has played a critical role in keeping supply chains moving smoothly, while also maintaining its own operations on track. The Port of Cork Company's safety record is strong, and I commit to ensuring continued investment in systems and processes to keep our people safe.

I turn now to a brief overview of some of the key opportunities and challenges I see ahead for the Port of Cork. First, several significant physical moves are anticipated in the near future. Phase 2 of the terminal at Ringaskiddy will allow the Port of Cork to move the remainder of its container business from the city to the lower harbour. It will also increase national port capacity, and that will help to relieve some of the pressure on other ports. The completion of the M28 road will be a key enabler of this increased capacity. The addition of a customs facility or border inspection post at the Port of Cork would allow for more efficient transport of organic foodstuffs from outside the EU into Ireland and reduce the cost and carbon impact of bringing these products to Irish consumers. I note that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is considering this matter. The Port of Cork also plans to develop bulk trade at Marino Point and to utilise the rail link there, where feasible. That will reduce the carbon impact of this trade by moving freight from road to rail, as well as allowing the bulk trade to leave Cork city's quays and thereby leaving those docklands free for development.

Second, the port is also playing a key role with other State stakeholders in providing the necessary infrastructure to support renewable energy projects, especially regarding offshore wind. I see significant opportunities in this area for Ireland and for Cork. We will work closely as a port with the wider industry, the Government and all stakeholders to ensure that we play our part in delivering Ireland’s potential in this area.

As I look forward, I note that the Port of Cork will need to continue its strong growth to meet the needs of Irish consumers and industry and to generate the revenues required to sustain our operations and future infrastructural development. I am mindful of the relatively high levels of debt that the port has relative to its earnings arising from recent infrastructure developments. I note that to finance further Port of Cork investments in infrastructure facilities in Ringaskiddy and Marino Point, the company anticipates a need to realise value from surplus assets in addition to generating free cash from trading.

As chairperson designate, I assure the committee that we in the Port of Cork will redouble our efforts to improve our sustainability and to reduce the carbon impact of all our operations. We will also continue to work closely with our host communities to ensure sustainable operations and minimum disruptions to the lives of the people who live or work near our facilities. I again thank the Chairperson for the opportunity to address the committee and I welcome any questions or suggestions that he or the members may have.

I thank Mr. Walsh for his opening statement. Moving to our members, I call Deputy O'Rourke.

I thank Mr. Walsh for his statement and I wish him the best of luck in his new role. In that regard, I would like to get his perspective on a few matters. As I understand it, the national port policy is to be updated soon. What would Mr. Walsh like to see included in that new policy? I refer to priority issues that might facilitate the Port of Cork to realise its potential.

Turning to renewable energy sources, I ask Mr. Walsh to give us a sense of where he sees such endeavours going in respect of, for example, offshore wind and hydrogen. Is there a significant opportunity there? Does he believe that the Port of Cork is well positioned to tap into that and to be a leader in that space?

Could he give us an update on finances? What did he mean by letting go surplus assets? Does he have a plan in place to get back on track? I appreciate that he outlined significant capital investment and infrastructural changes. Does he see finances as a surmountable challenge? Are there implications for jobs?

Rail freight in respect of the marina was mentioned. Is there an opportunity in terms of the port's engagement with providers, suppliers, exporters and importers? Are there opportunities for Cork Port in that space?

Mr. Michael Walsh

I thank the Deputy for his very helpful questions and thoughts. On the national ports policy, we would like to see a focus on infrastructure development and capital expenditure. We see huge potential for the future development of the port, in terms of enabling jobs and the broader economy, as well as many of the areas the Deputy mentioned in his questions and contribution. We will obviously review it in quite a bit of detail as a company and board, and we will be actively involved in a process. We welcome the opportunity to share the views of the port management and board with policymakers.

I will turn to the finances. I would not describe that as a challenge, based on my initial examination of the accounts. The company has done an excellent job in bringing forward significant major capital investment in a very efficient way. We now need to be mindful of making sure that we operate prudently to continue servicing the debt that we took in, and growing our operations and business. I do not think there is any problem per se, but it behoves us to operate prudently, keep a close eye on the situation and make sure that we are setting ourselves up to continue making investments as needs arise. I do not think there are any issues or that jobs are at risk. It is more a matter of needing to be mindful and continuing the prudent management of the business.

On offshore wind and hydrogen, I see a huge opportunity for Ireland and Cork. We have a tremendous natural resource available to us in the wind industry, and we are seeing greater interconnection to Europe and opportunities for us to take a natural resource and share it with some of our European neighbours. This is a scenario I was previously heavily involved in in Ireland and I continue to be incredibly optimistic about the future of the sector. There is a particularly good role for Cork in this, given its favourable location on the south coast of Ireland and very good access to a lot of other areas.

With hydrogen, there is a significant opportunity of Ireland and Cork. I note that Cork is a historically good location based on the Kinsale gas field. There is a lot of really good existing infrastructure there. I am sure that Gas Networks Ireland and other stakeholders are examining opportunities as to how that infrastructure could be repurposed to take advantage of clean hydrogen as and when that technology becomes available. Have I covered all of the questions?

I had a point on rail freight. On hydrogen and offshore wind, what hurdles need to be crossed to realise that potential? I hear from every quarter about the big opportunities there for us. Are there barriers? What is needed from Mr. Walsh's perspective for the next six to 12 months to move things along?

Mr. Michael Walsh

I will start by noting that I have not been actively involved in the Irish industry for about four five years. I will mainly give my comment from a slight distance based on that. There is huge potential. When I was in IWEA I always looked at the need for joined-up policy and thinking. Developing a large offshore wind project is very complex and capital intensive. For the operator, it is important that there is joined-up thinking between the availability of planning, consents, licences and grid connection support systems. They are all fairly major pieces of consents or licences. Trying to get all of them lined up and ready within the same timeframe to enable a quick delivery when we are looking at very ambitious targets of 2030 will be one of the key challenges.

I know from informal conversations with stakeholders that there is a lot of optimism and ambition. This committee and Oireachtas Members have a role in guiding practicality and joined-up thinking. That is probably the single biggest challenge. The ambition is good. There are very competent bodies in various State agencies. The danger is that they may not act closely enough together in order to get action happening as quickly as we would like.

Rail freight has potential in terms of emissions reductions and that sort of thing. Are there opportunities there? Is it something Mr. Walsh has considered?

Mr. Michael Walsh

Absolutely. It is a great point. There is definitely potential there. I do not have all of the details on Cork, but I am aware that there is a potential rail facility coming in to Marina Point. If we can redevelop that site and bring freight traffic in there that has the potential to take a significant amount of freight off the roads and reduce the carbon impact. I understand there is an upcoming review of some of the rail strategy in the area. It is an area the port is considering very closely to try to achieve exactly what the Deputy described in terms of getting some of the freight traffic into Marina Point onto rail and reducing congestion and the carbon impact on local roads.

I thank Mr. Walsh. I wish him the best of luck in the new role.

I welcome the representatives from Cork Port to the committee. As a Cork Deputy, it is great to have them here to answer a few questions and provide a few points of information. First and foremost, am I right in saying that Mr. Walsh is originally from Kildare?

Mr. Michael Walsh

Yes indeed.

I wish him well in his position. If we have time we will come back to questions on that.

I refer to parts of Cork Port which fall under the remit of my constituency. The witnesses spoke about Marina Point, which is in very close proximity to the town of Cobh and Great Island, and aspects of future growth in the facilities in Cork Port. I have a few points I would like to raise with Mr. Walsh. I ask him to understand that we are under time constraints.

What is the current status of Marina Point? A concern raised regularly with me by residents in the Cobh area is access to some of the commonage areas around Marina Point. There are wonderful walkways there. Grassland is not being maintained. There is an opportunity for Cork Port, before there is a permanent plan, to use a minor amount of money in the grand scheme of things to bring the area up to a standard whereby it can be utilised. That would benefit the people of Cobh. I have walked the area and have visited it with people living in the region. With very little investment a lot could be done for the people in the town of Cobh. Approximately 30,000 people live in Cobh and this is a key concern for them.

I also want to raise another issue. Dual access on and off Great Island is a major issue in Cobh. It is an issue repeatedly raised by the local chamber of commerce for Cork Harbour and Cobh, under the president, Ms Johanna Murphy. She and her colleagues have done fantastic work to lobby on that issue. I have been in constant communication with the Government about it. Does Cork Port have a position on the need for extra road capacity and dual access? Belvelly Bridge is an ancient bridge which is definitely no longer fit for purpose for the type of traffic going over it. It is extraordinarily narrow. When something happens, unless people take the ferry the island can technically be cut off which is of huge concern to people living in Cobh. Could Mr. Walsh come back to me on those viewpoints first?

Mr. Michael Walsh

I thank the Deputy. I may not be as deep on all of the details of his points as I hope to be soon. If I cannot fully answer the questions to his satisfaction today and provide a full level of information, I will bring them back to management and the board and revert to him shortly with more complete answers.

I thank Mr. Walsh.

Mr. Michael Walsh

As far as I am aware, the port has been promoting the improvement of the R624 – the Cobh road – and the Belvelly Bridge for many years. Our views are aligned with the Deputy's suggestions, and we welcome his support in that regard. It is an important issue.

I want to make a general point related to much of my experience, originally in the wind industry: there is a need for good engagement with communities. Operating properly, in co-operation and consultation with local communities and their representatives, generally makes things run much more smoothly in building infrastructure of good quality that meets both national needs and the needs of the communities that host it. That is one of the key principles that I want to bring to the Port of Cork as chairperson. All the comments the Deputy is making are incredibly valuable.

I was fortunate to have an opportunity to visit the port three or four weeks ago and meet the CEO. I had a wonderful walk around Paddy's Point pier, where I saw the facilities that the port has put in place. I heard many encouraging sentiments about the need for community engagement and developing facilities. All the points that have been made on the Cobh area and Great Island sound incredibly important. I will discuss them in more detail with the port management. We would definitely look to see where there are opportunities to bring things forward that benefit the local community. To echo the Deputy's statements, this is incredibly important.

May I interrupt? I have only two minutes left approximately. I welcome Mr. Walsh's replies but have a question. It is great to hear he is interested in community engagement. I would welcome him to Carrigaloe and would be delighted to show him in person what I mean by the Port of Cork creating some type of amenity in conjunction with Cork County Council around Marino Point and using the facility that is lying idle. That it is lying idle is a great shame. It is beautiful along the banks of the River Lee as it heads south towards the sea and into the lower harbour.

I have a request for the Port of Cork. It is important for Mr. Walsh to be aware of it. People listen to what the private sector and major State bodies have to say. Mr. Walsh has a major and critical role. I am aware that he is not a native of Cork but he will probably grow into his role and do well. I wish him well in the role but ask him to push the Fota road issue with the members of the Cabinet and State agencies such as Transport Infrastructure Ireland. It is a complicated matter because it requires the reclassification of a regional road as a national road. It is hard to find an example in the country of where this has happened, particularly in Cork, which has the most roads per kilometre in the country. Therefore, it is quite complicated. I am sure there is plenty of infighting involving the local authority's roads department, which is doing a great job, and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, with which everyone knows I have many problems. It is a development I would like Mr. Walsh to push. It is necessary and badly needed. To ensure the full use of the Marino Point site, having road access will be crucial. The new Cork metropolitan transport area strategy, which will treble the capacity of the rail network in the east-Cork region, including the area past Marino Point and to Cobh, will also be crucial.

Bearing in mind those two points, will Mr. Walsh accept my invitation? I would be delighted to have him in the area, including Marino Point and Cobh. Could he commit, in his new role, to working to push these items with the Government?

Mr. Michael Walsh

I thank the Deputy for his invitation. I would be delighted to take him up on it. I look forward to seeing the facilities in person with the Deputy and getting to know more about the community and the area.

Second, the comments I have heard from the management on Fota are almost exactly the same as those I have heard from Deputy O'Connor. To the extent that we in the port can play a constructive role in boosting the infrastructure, we will do so.

It is great to have the Deputy's support. It is incredibly important that public representatives and State companies have the same understanding of issues and try to bring forward developments that will benefit local communities. For my part, I will bring the matter back to the board for discussion. However, from previous discussions with the management, I realise it is essentially saying almost exactly what the Deputy is saying.

That is great. I thank Mr. Walsh very much for his time.

I thank Mr. Walsh. I read his opening statement last night and wish him the very best in his new role. I believe he is the first unknown chairperson designate the committee has had here. We had Mr. Pádraig Ó Céidigh, whom we all knew because he had been in the Seanad, and we had Mr. Basil Geoghegan, who was being returned for a second term. Did Mr. Walsh apply through the public appointments process? Is that the way it works? Was he asked to apply as someone with a skill set from large organisations and much experience in chairing organisations, which is a skill in itself? Did Mr. Walsh put himself forward? His being a native of Kildare involved with wind energy and various other areas does not automatically make him the most obvious candidate to chair the Port of Cork, notwithstanding that I am sure he will do a very good job. Could he tease that out for us?

Mr. Michael Walsh

I am happy to. I thank the Senator for the compliments. I have worked in the private and public sectors for most of my career. I am currently doing a private-sector job with global outreach that I am really enjoying. I intend to stay there for a long time but I always enjoy public service. You can have a huge commitment and have a considerable impact.

I am someone who always looks out for new challenges. I have probably been keeping half an eye on the Public Appointments Service for leadership positions at non-executive level in the infrastructure area. I saw the position in the Port of Cork and applied through the Public Appointments Service. I went through the process and I was very pleased to be successful. I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet the members today ahead of what I hope will be an appointment to the position.

Mr. Walsh's opening statement has quite a bit of detail that somebody who has not already been involved with the Port of Cork must have got from somewhere. When was he told he got the position of chairman designate, subject to our scrutiny and approval?

Mr. Michael Walsh

I do not have the exact dates to hand. About six or seven weeks ago, or maybe two months ago, I got notified that I was going to be appointed subject to meeting this committee and subsequent ministerial approval and formalisation. The Department put me in contact with the Port of Cork to do an initial briefing. I signed a non-disclosure agreement with it on a personal basis, essentially to allow for an exchange of information. I then had a briefing from the Department on matters from the shareholder perspective. In preparing for this meeting, I had a number of questions, but the management of the Port of Cork was helpful in preparing me well for this meeting.

Is Mr. Walsh in situ yet? Is he on a payroll yet? Has he chaired a meeting yet? Is he still waiting in limbo for the final approval process to kick in?

Mr. Michael Walsh

I attended one meeting as an observer. I did not participate in or chair the meeting. I did not have a vote on any matter that arose for a vote. I was present as a guest or observer. I am not formally appointed. My understanding is that after this process the clerk of the committee will write to the Department and Minister confirming that this hearing has taken place. Thereafter, the Minister can formally appoint me to the role. After that, I can attend and chair meetings. At the moment, however, I am a chair designate. I believe that is the title that describes the position. I am still in a waiting period.

It is useful for us to know that Mr. Walsh is not signing documents or agreements on behalf of the port as chairperson because the process does not seem to be uniform in all the semi-State bodies or organisations. Some have been there a bit longer and so on.

Mr. Walsh's opening statement was quite detailed and quite useful to us. As somebody who lives in Dublin, I am not that familiar with the Port of Cork. It is useful for us to know that the port is our second biggest. At EU level, it is on the Trans-European Transport Network, TEN-T. With Brexit, Dublin Port is still going to be very significant, but a lot of its business would have been UK based.

The journey time from Cork to the Continent will clearly be less than the journey time from Dublin to the Continent. Perhaps there are opportunities there for road and rail links from many parts of the country to places such as Cork and Rosslare so people can benefit from the shorter ferry crossing times. Has there been much planning and investigation of this opportunity by the Port of Cork? Is Mr. Walsh in a position to know at this stage?

Mr. Michael Walsh

I would not be in a position to get into significant detail but certainly the Port of Cork is looking at opportunities for all of the areas the Senator has described. It is also looking at logistics within Ireland and where it could be useful to take on more infrastructure where there is very good transport from the port by road and potentially by rail in future. My understanding is there has been a significant upturn in trade and the economy and Ireland is doing incredibly well. This needs more port capacity. With the infrastructure investments the Port of Cork has made in recent years, it is in a position to be able to help with national port capacity and help to sustain continued growth in the economy. The Port of Cork will be a very good entry point for a large part of the country. It is logistically close and accessible to many other parts of the country. From listening in at the previous board meeting, I know there is definitely an appetite for growth in the port. It is speaking to various shipping companies and other logistics providers with a view to bringing more business to the port. We can sustain our operations and continue to invest in infrastructure in a way that aligns with national policy.

From a national perspective, Cork is very important. There is a great natural asset in the harbour and there is the maritime history, not just of the Port of Cork but also of Cobh and the general area. With regard to the business of the Port of Cork, a huge amount of manufacturing goes on in areas such as Little Island. They are not areas on which I am an expert but I know that, historically, very large pharmaceutical companies have been based there as well as other companies and operations such as Pepsi. Is much of the Port of Cork's business based on the local area using the port? Is it something like 50% or is it 20% local and 80% from the rest of the country using Cork? Is there a breakdown of this for our understanding of what is happening there? Perhaps at some stage it might be useful for committee members who are not familiar with the Port of Cork to visit and see the operation. The second biggest port in the country is important to us all. What is the breakdown of locally sourced trade versus trade that comes from further away?

Mr. Michael Walsh

We would definitely welcome the members of the committee if they were to come down and visit us in the Port of Cork at any point to have a look at the facilities. I was very impressed when I saw the new Ringaskiddy facility several weeks ago. I was amazed at the quality of infrastructure that has been put in place and what it will mean for the technology and development to help with sustainability, security and to help everything move faster and be more efficient. I do not have an exact breakdown. I will take the question back to management and we will come back with it in writing. The Senator's point on the value of having good well-run infrastructure is very well made. It does help boost the economy and jobs in the local area. Something that will be incredibly important for me will be to make sure the port is significant for the local economy and area. It is an important asset that helps to boost the economy and jobs and bring new investment to the area. It is a very important aspect of it.

I thank the Senator for his comments on the interest of the committee members in the port. We see many areas where we will have interplay between the Government and public services with regard to infrastructure and development. Having a good open channel such as this will be very important. I would very much welcome opportunities to come back and share perspectives and thoughts with the committee on some of the other aspects once I am in the role a little longer. We can get into the detail. I feel it will be incredibly valuable for the Port of Cork as well as for the members.

Years ago we had the Cork to Roscoff ferry and there was a ferry to Swansea from Cork at one stage that went through various challenges over the years. With climate change, even though we are doing our best in the committee to keep aviation going, some people may decide to bring the car or will want to use maritime ways of getting to the Continent. Is there much talk in the Port of Cork about passenger services? Are there many passenger services at present? Is the port looking at opportunities there? The journey from Cork to the Continent for a passenger ferry is long but it is not as long as it is from Dublin or other parts of the country. Are there opportunities there? What is the current status of the passenger business?

Mr. Michael Walsh

I might have to come back with some of the exact numbers and details. The past two years have had a huge impact on all travel and infrastructure. There has been a dramatic reduction and almost a cessation of services. I will get the exact trends on this and we can share it by written response later. Longer term, when we settle into whatever the new normal is in whatever period, the Senator is right that there will be a lot of opportunities for lower carbon travel and access to the Continent. The facilities at the Port of Cork are outstanding. It is definitely an opportunity. We will be in discussions with the Department of Transport on various issues as we transit out of Covid over the coming period. We will be looking at policy and announcements and making sure we bear them in mind in our thinking as we look to grow. From the point of view of the port, once it becomes safe to do so we will be very keen to try to facilitate more sustainable travel and to provide facilities and access for people in Munster and the wider area. We will be mindful of Government policy and advice as we work over the coming months.

I am conscious other members want to come in. I thank Mr. Walsh for his opening statement and for being here today. I wish him and the Port of Cork the very best. The next speaker is much closer to Cork than I am and will know far more about the Port of Cork than I do. It is my hope Mr. Walsh and the Port of Cork prosper in the coming years. Is it a three-year position?

Mr. Michael Walsh

It is a five-year position.

I thank Mr. Walsh.

I welcome Mr. Walsh and I congratulate him on his appointment. I wish him every success in the role. He comes with a CV of impressive credentials and he is certainly qualified for the role. The Port of Cork is reasonably important not only to Cork but to the south west. It is in competition with other ports and, therefore, the stewardship of the board, the management of the company by the CEO and Mr. Walsh's role are very important. The Port of Cork, which used to be known as the Harbour Commissioners, has a huge affiliation with the city, Bantry and the people of Cork. I make my remarks conscious that Mr. Walsh will be the first non-Cork person to be appointed as chair of the board of the Port of Cork.

Mr. Michael Walsh

I must apologise; I lost the last two sentences. Would the Senator mind repeating them?

It was the best piece of oratory you would ever hear in the Oireachtas. Mr. Walsh lost out. Mr. Walsh comes to the board with impressive credentials but he has huge shoes to fill in that the previous chairs were all from Cork. There is an affinity and affiliation between the Port of Cork, previously the Harbour Commissioners, and the people and the city. I have to be honest that I am concerned that Mr. Walsh may not have an appreciation and understanding of what the Port of Cork means to the people of Cork. Mr. Walsh's suitability, credibility and competency are not in question. In fact, this hearing is irrelevant because Mr. Walsh will be appointed anyway. I am concerned from a Cork perspective that Mr. Walsh does not have an affiliation with Cork as he comes from Kildare. This is not a reflection on him but it is a concern I have given we have seen huge change in the Port of Cork. A new chair has been appointed. Another member of the board is also not from Cork.

There seems to be a movement away from a Cork appointment to the board and I am not sure why. I appreciate that Mr. Walsh has come through the Public Appointments Service. I do not have any issue with that, nor do I have any other person in mind to be appointed. I am not looking to be clientelist or protectionist in any way.

Mr. Walsh gave a very strong and visionary opening statement about the Port of Cork. In his contribution, Mr. Walsh made reference to the capital investment in the container terminal in Ringaskiddy. How does he envisage the port developing that container terminal given that approval has been granted for the M28 but it will be delayed?

Mr. Michael Walsh

I will take the Senator's first point first and I may do it in two parts. At a personal level, anything I have ever done I have done to the best of my ability and have taken it seriously. I have always been conscious that no one achieves anything by doing it on their own; it must be done in co-operation with local people. As a very general point, I want to demonstrate my commitment to taking this role. I understand the importance of the stewardship and its place for the people of Cork. I know some of the previous chairs, and I have nothing but admiration for the work they have done. I am very proud to have the opportunity to succeed them. I want to ensure that the people of Cork are proud of what we are doing in the Port of Cork.

The Senator asked about connectedness to Cork. I am from Kildare and I could make comments about Larry Tompkins, Shay Fahy and various other Kildare people who have played a constructive role in Cork.

We gave Kildare back Bryan Murphy from Bishopstown.

Mr. Michael Walsh

We also got a return favour.

More seriously, in Cork there is a sense of pride of place. People from Cork are proud to be from Cork. My wife trained as a nurse in Cork and a couple of my uncles lived in Cork. As children we used to go down there on holidays. I am not from Cork, but I know many Cork people. I always admire and am slightly jealous of the degree to which Cork people are proud of each other, of the infrastructure and of other aspects of Cork. I am very conscious that coming into a position like this I will face questions like the one the Senator has asked. He is not the first person to ask such a question and he will not be the last. That speaks to the importance of me being very visible, and listening very carefully to what the local representatives, the local community and the management say.

I like the word the Senator used about stewardship, which is about guiding the management and managing the board. We need to make sure that we are listening properly, that we understand the needs of the local community and that are delivering infrastructure that benefits the economy. I take it incredibly seriously. I cannot change the fact that I am not from Cork, but I assure the Senator that I appreciate his sentiments. I appreciate the importance of this to Cork. I appreciate the importance of my ensuring that I am tuned in to those local sensitivities and priorities. I will do my best to ensure we are meeting them.

The Senator mentioned Ringaskiddy and the M28. That is a key bottleneck which is limiting the amount of container traffic that Ringaskiddy can handle. That will be very important infrastructure, not just as a road on its own, but to enable considerable throughput and efficient use of wider national infrastructure. It will reduce the overall burden on road transport by allowing more freight to come in closer to the point of use in Cork. We are investigating extensions to Ringaskiddy in another phase in the coming years. The Senator is right about the completion of the M28. It is a very important piece of national infrastructure that enables much more efficient import of goods into Ireland and export of goods from Ireland.

In his opening statement, Mr. Walsh made reference to the land bank at Tivoli. As I am sure he is aware, the Land Development Agency is in discussion with the Port of Cork about a strategic development opportunity for thousands of housing units. Does Mr. Walsh have any views on how that should be progressed? Has he been briefed on that by the port management yet?

Mr. Michael Walsh

I have been briefed on that. We are looking at a timeline to move it away. Until we get the M28, my understanding is that the strategy is to move away from Tivoli to allow for the redevelopment and essentially to move the trade that is currently there to Ringaskiddy. However, there will not be sufficient capacity at Ringaskiddy until the M28 is complete.

I appreciate that Mr. Walsh is not in situ yet and would not be up to speed on all that. It is important for the port to divest itself of Tivoli as a matter of urgency because the urban regeneration of the docklands by the Land Development Agency is pivotal.

I ask about the sale of land owned by the Port of Cork for development on the quays in the city where the old docks were. The disposal of the land on the city quays will be pivotal to the urban regeneration of the docklands in the city. I hope in his capacity as chair of the board, Mr. Walsh will work with Cork City Council and the port to ensure that sale of land is expedited. That has the potential to unlock the docklands to provide recreational amenities and additional housing.

Mr. Michael Walsh

I am aware of that issue. I know that the CEO of the Port of Cork and the CEO of Cork City Council are in conversation on the detail of how that would happen. From my perspective, looking at it from cold, I believe they are not far from being able to reach agreement.

Good. I congratulate the board, the chief executive and the staff. The CSO figures from last year show that the Port of Cork had the largest increase in five years up to 2.4 million tonnes, allied to the capital investment by the outgoing board. I pay tribute to the outgoing chair, John Mullins, and the former CEO, Brendan Keating.

As Mr. Walsh knows, cruise traffic has been severely curtailed and effectively stopped by the Covid pandemic. Deputy O'Connor spoke earlier about Cobh. The Port of Cork did gargantuan work in attracting the cruise business to Cork and in developing and selling a product. Does Mr. Walsh have any view on how we can work with the industry to resurrect cruise traffic in time?

Mr. Michael Walsh

The Port of Cork is in conversation with the Department of Transport. That Department is dealing with various other Departments. Public health is the background subtext to all this. It was a very valuable piece of business for the Port of Cork. There is considerable pride in what was achieved. We are just awaiting an announcement of clarity of policy or direction from the Department and Government generally. If that announcement leads us towards resuming the cruise business, there is considerable optimism among the management in the ability to bring that trade back. However, it will be done following Government advice on the wider policy matters.

Border control inspection is crucial for the new container terminal to grow business in, for example, organic foods from the USA. It is important that we get that right and that we continue to pursue and advocate on behalf of that issue.

Mr. Michael Walsh

I agree with that.

In the context of developing new routes, I recently met the Moroccan ambassador to Ireland in Cork. When Mr. Walsh is appointed officially, I ask him to accept an invitation to meet the Moroccan ambassador to develop new routes from the Port of Cork. It is important to develop new routes in the context of what we have seen with Brexit.

I do not want to put Mr. Walsh on the spot on this one. I hope that the Port of Cork would support Ireland's bid for the America's Cup. He might not have a view on it; I do not expect that he necessarily would. However, it is an opportunity for us to develop and showcase not just Cork but Ireland.

I conclude by saying that my remarks were not personal to Mr. Walsh. He fully explained his appointment and I wish him every success. He has my full support. I look forward to working with him. I hope he does not take my remarks today as a personal insult. However, as a Cork person, I feel we have people in Cork who are qualified, who are competent to be on the board and who have been on the board.

I would hate to see fewer Cork people on the board of the Port of Cork. I have been of the same opinion about non-Cork people being appointed to the board of DAA. We need people from Cork who have an understanding and appreciation of Cork. I am not being personal. I wish Mr. Walsh every success and look forward to working with him. He has my full support.

Mr. Michael Walsh

I did not take anything the Senator said personally. I found his straight talking very refreshing and open. It helps open dialogue when people say what is on their mind. For my part, I welcome all the sentiments and I will be calling on the Senator for continued guidance and mentoring to ensure I am staying connected to the sentiments in Cork. I will need the help of people like the Senator and other representatives to make sure I am staying in touch and on track with the local needs. I welcome the Senator's straight talking. I am sure that over the term of this appointment, there will be more straight talking and that will be valuable and useful.

I will definitely take up the Senator's invitation to meet the Moroccan ambassador. I would look forward to that.

The Senator asked about the Americas Cup. The Port of Cork will do everything required of it and in its power to facilitate that and ensure the smooth running and operation of the event if the bid is successful.

Mr. Walsh inherits a very good board. He has a tremendous staff who do huge work. The Port of Cork, as I keep saying, is pivotal to the city. We all know the importance of the regeneration of the docklands area of our city and the movement to Marino Point. I wish Mr. Walsh well. He has great staff. I hope he will use his role as chair to visit Cork and to be in Cork. There is an important ceremonial aspect to the role. I know I sound old-fashioned. I do not mean to be, but it is important that we marry different aspects of Mr. Walsh's role. He also has a commercial hat that he must wear. The different roles must be married. For the purposes of today's meeting, I have every confidence that Mr. Walsh will guide the Port of Cork. I hope that, in time, we could have a conversation with Ministers about the appointment of chairpersons and members of boards, and how the Oireachtas interviews and meets with chair designates of other boards. I have made that point repeatedly in the past. Míle buíochas to Mr. Walsh.

I have no doubt but that Mr. Walsh will be seen at a few GAA games in Bishopstown in Cork. The Senator will give Mr. Walsh a personal tour. It has not happened for many years but there is a strong relationship between Cork and Kildare on the GAA pitch. Mr. Walsh mentioned Larry Tompkins and Shay Fahy. Mr. Tompkins was a bit of a Messiah once upon a time. Senator Buttimer would accept that.

We should mention Bryan Murphy as well, to be fair.

I thank Mr. Walsh for joining us today. Having heard the previous contribution, I feel that I should almost apologise for not being from Cork. I think Mr. Walsh dealt with it very well.

I apologise to Mr. Walsh.

Senator Buttimer alluded to Mr. Walsh's CV. I feel I should ask about the EirGrid infrastructure and difficulties with renewables. I will not do that but I nearly would on the basis of what I am reading here.

We are in the present difficulties regarding Brexit. I get that Mr. Walsh does not necessarily have all the information to hand that he will have in the next while. I am wondering, in the post-Covid situation we are in, if Mr. Walsh can go into detail around issues that have arisen relating to Covid, supply chains and solutions that may have been found. Is Mr. Walsh going to play a part in organising a structure if we are talking about new routes? Are other things happening? Are operations being presented to the board?

There is also the wider issue of regional development. In fairness, Mr. Walsh has dealt with some of the issues, including transport difficulties and the problems with the rail service. How does Mr. Walsh intend to interact with other ports to offer a more whole solution for the entire operation of the island, particularly in the context of Brexit? An awful lot of stuff has happened and we would not have anticipated that the market could react to such a degree.

Mr. Michael Walsh

If someone had told me this vision of 2021 five years ago, I probably would not have believed it, with the impact of Covid and Brexit. There were many things that we probably just assumed would never change and in the space of two or three years, we are in a different world to where we were. The Port of Cork has been no exception. My understanding is that through the pandemic, there were good working arrangements with the staff. Some of the committee members mentioned the staff and everything I have heard from the management and the board has been complimentary about the staff of the Port of Cork. I feel privileged to be joining a team that has stood up and helped to keep supply chains running and operations happening in a challenging and difficult environment. I recognise that and it is not something I take for granted. I am privileged to feel I am joining a team that has a group of people who have gone over and above the call of duty and delivered so much.

I understand that not one ship was missed in the Port of Cork. The logistics continued to run incredibly smoothly throughout the past two years. Supply chains remained open and logistics kept functioning as described. There was, obviously, a lot of change in commercial patterns and logistics due to Brexit. A lot of traffic that may otherwise have come from the UK is now coming directly from mainland Europe There have been various other changes. As was mentioned, there have been changes around the cruise line and passenger traffic. Looking through the accounts, that posed a particularly difficult challenge last year and the year before. At that time, there were relatively small financial volumes, relative to the infrastructural investments that were being made in facilities such as Ringaskiddy. A significant amount of debt was taken on to enable that infrastructure to be delivered. The management and board have done a remarkable job in keeping supply chains open but also in growing business, opening routes and getting out and trying to find areas where the Port of Cork is a better and more sustainable solution for logistics providers for shipping in terms of reducing carbon, as well as improving the facilities and businesses in the port.

I do not have detailed facts and figures but it is something into which I will look. I will try to come back with some of the managers to address the details and give a bit more flavour on these matters. There has been remarkable change in the past couple of years. It is a testament to the professionalism and dedication of the staff, management and the existing board of the port that they managed to get through that period of turbulence so successfully and with new infrastructure ready to come into play and be used at the end of it.

In fairness, Mr. Walsh was quite clear that the board was fit for purpose and able to do what is necessary. It would be useful if we could get that information in a very general sense. I accept there are going to be business considerations and whatever else, and Mr. Walsh is not going to tell us the entirety of the port's plans. I would like to know about the element of dealing with other ports and putting together holistic solutions.

We are far from finished with Brexit. We do not even know what we will be dealing with in the long term. I welcome what Mr. Walsh has said about how well the Port of Cork and the board have managed the situation and been custodians during this period. Mr. Walsh's intention is obviously to continue that and to grow the port to a greater degree while including ecological considerations and green-proofing, as is absolutely necessary, given the period we are in. I welcome all of that.

Will Mr. Walsh give me a bit of detail on the piece around border control inspection? What will that facilitate? I listened to what Senator Buttimer said about the American connection. I apologise for my lack of information. If Mr. Walsh would fill in those gaps, I would be delighted.

Mr. Michael Walsh

It is very recent news to me as well. Any organic material or foodstuffs that are imported into the EU need to undergo a customs or food-safety check at the point of entry into the EU.

Prior to Brexit much of that happened through the UK because a UK port was the first European port they entered before they went on to Cork or wherever. Currently, when we are importing foodstuffs such as bananas from Costa Rica or other foodstuffs from the US, which are organic foodstuffs, the first port of entry into the EU must be a customs inspection port and those facilities are not currently available in the Port of Cork. What can happen is that either the transport can be rerouted to Dublin, where those facilities exist, and that brings a degree of congestion and extra travel with it, or in some cases I believe it is going to other EU countries first, so it travelling from the Americas, coming to mainland Europe, clearing the agricultural inspections there and then being put back on a ship and coming to Cork for transport into Ireland. If we had the facilities in the Port of Cork it would mean one could essentially just bring the products in and conduct the inspections there. It would save a great deal of travel time, carbon, money and so forth for the import of those products.

I appreciate that. It is necessary to have a fit-for-purpose port that can plan for the future, create new routes and so forth. I appreciate the time Mr. Walsh has given me and I wish him the best of good luck. I would be grateful if we could that further information regarding the current position and future planning.

Mr. Michael Walsh

We will do that.

I have some questions now. Mr. Walsh, why did you apply for the role? I am looking at your background. You are an expert in renewables and particularly wind energy, but you do not have a background in ports. You will accept that you are an unusual appointment in that regard. Why did somebody with that background apply through the public appointments system for the role of chair of the Port of Cork? It is an obvious question really, but in many cases it is not asked. Your background is not in that area so you might indicate why you applied.

Mr. Michael Walsh

I will answer that in two parts. I mentioned the public service aspect of it. That is important to me. In addition, there is always an interest in doing something new and the challenge of doing something a little different. There are a few of those aspects to it. More generally, as we look at energy we see that things are converging more at present. I am also involved in the Global Power System Transformation Consortium, which is essentially looking at what we need to do to get to a net-zero world. It emerged from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory and one of the main themes it is bringing up is the converges of electricity, energy, transport and heating and how all these things must come together in the future to enable sustainable living.

Optimistically, I am still probably in the middle of my career at this stage and I believe the interactions between the marine sector and the energy sector are growing year by year. They are becoming incredibly important. As we look through the initial briefings on the Port of Cork and we see the number of aspects that are energy-related and that fit into the strategy of the port and its future development, it is very clear that the two sectors are much closer than might be seen at first glance. That is only going to continue over time. The projections for investment in the energy sector in Ireland over the coming ten years show that most of the investment by capital is going to come in the offshore sector. Looking at how people are considering developing energy networks into the future, most of that is offshore. There is a large aspect of convergence of infrastructure across transport, electricity and so forth.

On a personal level, I mentioned previously that it is something I am very proud to do. It is a position of honour. Since I was appointed I have been celebrating and upbeat and just generally happy. It is a privilege to have an opportunity to take a position such as this where one is guiding the leadership of one of the most important facilities in the country, so I am incredibly satisfied on a personal level. I am very proud to have been appointed. I know there is a little variety in all that, but two things sum it up. One is that I value public service in Ireland. Second, the level of overlap between various types of infrastructure and sustainability is growing over time and for me to have the opportunity to take a leadership position in one of the most important growing areas that is adjacent to the energy sector is incredibly exciting.

In your role as chair, what will you bring to the Port of Cork that is different? Building on that, what is your opinion on the area of offshore energy and the ports? Obviously, there is also Shannon Foynes Port, and I am a Limerick city Deputy. You have serious expertise in this area. You are a former chief executive officer of the Irish Wind Energy Association and board member of the European Wind Energy Association. You are currently the chair of the research advisory committee for the Global Power System Transformation Consortium. More particularly, you have worked with EirGrid. You have phenomenal experience and you are currently responsible for global commercial operations for the US energy technology company, Smart Wires, which specialises in delivering electricity infrastructure to enable grid connections for renewables with minimal disruption to the environment. What specifically will you bring to the board that is new? Where do you see the area of offshore energy tying in with the ports? I am looking at this from the perspective of asking the questions, not making any comment.

Mr. Michael Walsh

I will start with all the other things that have been done. My first priority will be sustaining the business, the good management and all the things we discussed previously. I have a lot of management experience in an infrastructure business where one is looking at capital plans, developing infrastructure in partnership with communities, being very efficient in how one does it, project management and so forth. I believe that level of expertise and guidance will be valuable for the core role. One thing I will be very careful about is not to take the eye off the ball. It is sometimes very easy to get excited by the shiny new thing and forget the basic operation and the basic reason one is there. With all my experience I have become very conscious not to do that and to make sure that we continue the very strong governance we have at present.

More generally, the experience of infrastructure development and funding, particularly in offshore wind, is going to be a helpful bridge between the Port of Cork and the offshore sector and ensure that we understand what is required and put the facilities in place. I have also been looking at this from a commercial aspect for many years so it is very important to ensure that we do this in a way that makes sense for the Port of Cork and for the local infrastructure. We want to enable and facilitate it, but we want to do it in a way that is sustainable for the Port of Cork, its various stakeholders and other companies that are active in the marine sector in the port. It is important that we do this in a way that is organised, thoughtful and that fits well with it. One of the things I bring is a great deal of experience in working with offshore wind developers around the world and seeing how they interact with ports and what does and does not work well. I can bring some of those perspectives and lessons to guide the strategy of the board as it thinks through it.

I am also an expert in sustainability. That is going to be important for everything we do, not just in how we facilitate offshore wind but also in how we use energy, how we look at getting the freight traffic through the port most efficiently and getting it to the consumer with the lowest cost possible in carbon emissions. That is not just good for the environment but will also be good for the business of the Port of Cork and for the economy of the island more generally.

On the general perspective of offshore wind energy off the coast of Ireland, how long do you see it before we are suddenly at a position where wind energy is being generated commercially and is bringing a dividend to the various ports, such as Cork, Shannon Foynes and so forth? What is the trajectory timeframe for that? We hear a great deal of talk and ordinary people are looking in at this, but what is the timeframe for it?

Mr. Michael Walsh

The national climate strategy has an aim to have 5 GW of offshore wind installed by 2030, which would be a very substantial amount, and one or two of the larger plants in by 2025 to 2027. That timeframe is realistic. The interesting thing about offshore wind is that it is capable of happening at scale quickly. That is part of what makes it attractive.

We have a strong opportunity to capitalise on the quality of the resource, including the shallow waters and high wind speeds we have around the coast of Ireland. Our timing has been good because we are developing this technology at a point when we can capitalise on the lessons that have been learned everywhere. The cost of offshore wind energy for generation now is less than half what it was even ten years ago. That is going to be incredibly beneficial for Irish customers who will get the resource at a good price point.

From the ports perspective, one will see the benefits come in a little earlier. Many of the benefits will start coming in once the construction programmes kick off, or even when one starts to get marine surveys, to get early looks at the sites and to do feasibility analysis. One will start seeing some of that benefit and traffic commencing within about two years, and then it will ramp up as the construction programme goes into serious operation around the middle of this decade.

Does Mr. Walsh think that offshore wind energy is commercially viable? It is a hard question. In light of its reliance on winds, is it as reliable as other forms of renewables? The use of fossil fuels has huge implications in terms of the impact of carbon on the climate but it is utterly reliable in delivering energy. The feedback I have received from many business people is that because many renewables depend on wind energy and many other factors that are not as certain, one will have to build at serious scale, certainly for renewable wind energy generation to work. I make that observation as a layman. For offshore wind energy and renewables to really take off, the ordinary person must understand all of their features. It is nice to talk about these technologies. How does one ensure they give that certainty of energy supply so that jobs can be maintained and businesses can function? I have slightly digressed but the development of offshore wind energy is a key feature in the development of the ports around Ireland.

Mr. Michael Walsh

The Chairman has made a great point. It is essential to maintain the confidence of consumers and industry because ultimately they must pay for this option. It would be completely unfair to ask people to pay for a strategy that they do not understand or in which they have no confidence. There is a big communication issue that the industry must take seriously. COP26 generated an awful lot of goodwill and ambition and we need to sustain that goodwill and buy-in. The points that the Chairman made are exactly right. A degree of communication and description will be needed. We need to take this incredibly seriously.

In response to the substantive point, the technology is highly reliable and well proven. There is really strong international experience of exactly how it works, how one maintains it, what output one can expect and how one can forecast it, etc. We are coming to this technology at a really good point where we can take a lot of international learnings and understand exactly where it goes.

On the point of reliability, that is a systems integration issue. EirGrid is doing a lot of work on that at the moment along with the ESB and various other stakeholders. This technology needs to be properly managed. One needs to consider the situations, how much of it one can have on at any given time, what the back-up sources of energy are, and how one transports it from where it is generated to where consumers need it. They are the technical challenges that we look at globally in terms of systems transformation and how to manage the challenges. We are lucky in Ireland because we have very strong engineering experts in these areas. They are very prudent yet progressive, which is exactly what one would hope for. We need to make sure that we take steps in a well-measured way that is clearly understood. Offshore wind energy is reliable and has huge potential. At the moment, in many parts of the world offshore wind energy generation has a lower cost than fossil fuel alternatives and there is better energy security. I do not know whether Members have followed the situation all over Europe but in the last month there were huge issues with gas prices in the UK.

Mr. Michael Walsh

Energy suppliers went bankrupt. The Chairman said that fossil fuel generation is reliable. It is but we are looking at a situation where, aside from the carbon impact, we must import fuels and often we are at the end of a very long pipeline with suppliers that are, potentially, a bit unpredictable at the other end. In the long run, we will get a more secure energy system when we have control over our own energy locally. However, we need to look at and invest in engineering expertise to make sure we manage it so that there is reliable delivery for our customers and at an efficient cost.

I wish Mr. Walsh well in his new role and thank him for coming before us today. Do Members have further questions?

Yes, I did until the Chairman asked questions on renewables.

I occasionally take information in.

Mr. Walsh has dealt with most of the issue. I appreciate the conversation on the Port of Cork and the future ports we will have. The difficulty on some level is our offshore wind energy infrastructure. It is accepted that there is a piece of planning work that we are still operating through. Obviously, Mr. Walsh's knowledge is based on his previous work. I imagine that a significant amount of work needs to be done. Earlier today I heard that upwards of €1 billion would be needed to get us to where we need to be. I remember someone saying before that if we had all the wind energy we could possibly have in play, it would be dissipated and lost because we do not have the required infrastructure.

Mr. Michael Walsh

Yes. I will avoid going into specifics about Ireland as I have not been close to it recently. The Deputy is right and that is a point we have seen all over the world. One of the areas I focused on in my other role was looking at how we get these renewables. In the US, there is about 600 GW in a queue to connect at the moment. The main reason for that is because the grid infrastructure is not available to transport it. We are seeing a lot of new solutions coming through. There are imaginative thinking technologies that allow one to do it quicker and faster. There are very good operators in EirGrid and very strong professionals in the ESB that have good strategies and plans in place. It is not cheap but there is a lot of cause for optimism. There is a good can-do attitude. We are seeing a lot of innovation and technology coming that will make it easier to develop some of these solutions in ways that are cheaper and faster and have a lower impact on communities.

Does Mr. Walsh think that EirGrid and the ESB are utilising these innovative technologies, or will do so in the future?

Mr. Michael Walsh

That would be my expectation, yes.

I accept that my questions came from left-field in the context of the original reason for Mr. Walsh's presence at this meeting. I appreciate his comments and wish him good luck.

Is there a need to invest €1 billion in offshore renewables and wind energy? How large an investment is required?

Mr. Michael Walsh

My figures are slightly ad lib. For 5 GW of offshore wind, one would need to invest between €4 billion and €6 billion in wind facilities and offshore grids. The figure of €1 billion quoted by Deputy Ó Murchú came from an earlier report on the onshore grid. I confirm that the investment would need to be of that magnitude. Let us compare the annual cost of importing gas and other fuels with a one-time investment to move one away from the annual cost for a long period. When one calculates what the investment would mean in terms of the cost of electricity, the numbers do not look quite so stark when compared with the savings made from not having to import fossil fuels.

Mr. Walsh mentioned the renewable figure by 2030. What percentage would that be of our current overall energy requirements in Ireland?

Mr. Michael Walsh

The SEAI or EirGrid could give a better figure. Off the top of my head, I would say the percentage is probably in the 20% to 30% range.

I thank Mr. Walsh and wish him well. I look forward to him working with his board in the Port of Cork. A letter and transcript of this meeting will issue to the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to notify him that the committee has met Mr. Walsh. We wish Mr. Walsh well and thank him.

The joint committee adjourned at 3.10 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 17 November 2021.