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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 18 May 1994

Vol. 140 No. 10

Adjournment Matter. - Centre for International Co-operation, Shannon.

I thank you, a Cathaoirleach, for allowing me to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

The Minister for Tourism and Trade should grant aid a feasibility study for the establishment of a major multi-purpose world centre as an extension to the Centre for International Co-operation at Shannon. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Fitzgerald, who will respond to this matter and perhaps she will be able to get European funding for this proposal.

The Centre for International Co-operation is a non-governmental and non-profit making organisation, supported since its establishment by Aer Lingus, Aer Rianta, SFADCo and the Irish Peace Institute, as well as corporate and private donors. The patron of the centre is Dr. Patrick Hillery, former President of Ireland; the president is Dr. Brendan O'Regan, who is also president of the Irish Peace Institute and Co-operation North; and the chairman is Mr. Tom O'Donnell, former Government Minister and MEP. The mission of the centre is to promote contacts between Ireland and eastern Europe and develop these into managed programmes of co-operation in education, training, economic development, business, culture and youth activities.

To date the centre has established personal contacts through face to face meetings with high ranking decision makers in 415 international organisations. The network in the CIS and Baltic States is a valuable national asset for developing new markets for Ireland. The wide range of high level international contacts have already yielded spin-off benefits for tourism, industry, commerce and services. This global network of high level contacts adds a major new dimension to the international profile of Shannon and opens doors to existing and new opportunities for generating substantial additional tourism and business for the Shannon region.

The motion before the House requests grant aid for a feasibility study to establish a major multi-purpose world centre at Shannon. This will maximise the opportunities created by the Centre for International Co-operation. A site has been earmarked and preliminary steps taken to get the project under way.

The development envisaged is an international park with a number of pavilions, one of which will depict the economic development of modern Ireland over the past half century and highlight the growth and development of Shannon and the Shannon region. Other pavilions would illustrate the European Union, the Council of Europe and the United Nations; outstanding examples of international co-operation since World War II, to which Ireland has made a significant contribution. It is expected that each of these organisations would locate an information office or a subsidiary organisation in the park. The park would also include a world trade centre with exhibition and conference facilities, as well as an international training centre to provide training facilities for eastern European and Third World personnel.

In relation to this proposal, that great visionary, Brendan O'Regan, who opened up rural Ireland to industrial development and job creation, said:

What is needed now in Shannon is an imaginative and exciting new development which will have major economic and social impact locally, nationally and internationally; a development which will promote peace and co-operation while generating increased airport traffic and contributing to the expansion of trade, commerce, tourism and employment. Given the same commitment and dedication, and the co-operation of State, semi-State and private sectors, which have resulted in so many major developments in the Shannon region in the past, I am confident that such a project can be brought to fruition.

It is envisaged that all the activities in the proposed centre would have a major impact on the amount of traffic through Shannon Airport. The location of offices of international organisations such as the European Union and the United Nations would mean the numbers of people from abroad passing through the airport would increase dramatically. Furthermore, the proposed development would result in a major exploitation of the region's resources and the economic benefits of such a venture would be quite substantial.

I hope the Minister is happy that for once a mid-west politician has spoken positively, without any criticism, about a development in Shannon.

I note the positive contribution made by Senator Neville. His contributions in this House have always been so. As the Minister for Tourism and Trade, Deputy McCreevy, is on a trade mission to Germany, I have been asked to take this matter on his behalf.

The Centre for International Co-operation is a non-profit making organisation set up in November 1987 to promote international contacts in a variety of sectors. It is based in Shannon and has organised a number of international conferences there. It is the Minister's understanding that the centre's main focus at present is on developing the commercial potential for Irish companies in eastern Europe using the contacts the centre has built up since its establishment.

The centre has in the past obtained funding for its activities from Aer Lingus, Aer Rianta, SFADCo, the Irish Peace Institute and private sector donations. For the period 1994 to 1996, An Bord Tráchtála has undertaken to provide in the region of £50,000 to assist the centre in developing a co-operation programme focusing of business leads for Irish companies in eastern Europe. The objective is to provide a set of business guides to individual republics of the former Soviet Union for the benefit of Irish companies wishing to expand in those markets.

As the Senator knows, it was originally proposed to establish a world trade centre in Shannon in the 1980s. There are a number of world trade centres already in existence, for example in Chicago, New York, Singapore and Amsterdam, each drawing on strong local commercial hinterlands. Supporters of the establishment of a similar centre at Shannon based their proposal on its geographic location, being equi-distant between the USA and the USSR. However, the ending of the cold war and the opening up of eastern European markets have somewhat weakened the basis for this proposal.

The Minister feels the centre should maintain its current focus and establish the sound commercial track record required to enable it to assist Irish companies to strengthen and develop their trade links with the emerging new economies previously behind the Iron Curtain.

I have impressed on the Minister that the opening up of the USSR is a positive aspect of the proposal. I ask the Minister for a commitment that she will pass on the strong views of Dr. Patrick Hillery, Mr. Brendan O'Regan, Mr. Tom O'Donnell and of myself to the Minister for Tourism and Trade, Deputy McCreevy, in the hope that he will develop and support a feasibility study. We are not asking for the centre tonight, but for a feasibility study because it deserves one.

The Seanad adjourned at 11 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 19 May 1994.