Enda Kenny’s retirement as Taoiseach may inadvertently scupper some very positive moves to acquire funding for The Shannon Venue.

Mr Kenny resigned as Fine Gael leader on May 7th, one day before Derek Barrett and Eoin Hoctor reported to local councillors about two positive engagements with Minister of State for Employment and Small Business, Pat Breen, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and senior officials of Clare County Council.

Reflecting on five years of The Venue project, Derek Barrett said this had represented a sea-change in terms of the support being offered by Clare County Council and a major boost with Minister Noonan willing to advance the project by finding a way to make capital funding available. All changed however when Mr Kenny announced his resignation and Michael Noonan said he will stand aside in favour of a new Finance Minister appointed by the incoming Taoiseach.

Given their commitment and tenacity in pursuit of this project, no doubt Derek Barrett, Eoin Hoctor and Kevin Thompstone will also overcome this obstacle. During his presentation, Mr Barrett spoke of taking ownership of the town centre site in December 2016 and said the project is “practically at the shovel-ready stage.”

To date €850,000 has been committed to The Venue and €300,000 has been drawn down. The next stage is the preparation of tender documents, this will provide detailed plans and an accurate update on how inflation has impacted building costs. This phase will cost approximately €170,000 and take up to eight months to complete.

Mr Barrett told how Cllr John Crowe facilitated meetings with Ministers Breen and Noonan as well as local authority officials Pat Dowling, Ger Dollard and Liam Conneally. Minister Noonan committed his full support and said he will work with Minister Pat Breen to secure funding for The Venue.

Over the next two or three years Mr Barrett predicts a successful airport, new industries and new constructions on the Free Zone which will increase employment levels. He claimed that Clare County Council stands to benefit as this will add 300,000 sq. ft. of rateable revenue in the near future. With the Shannon area contributing €15.9m of commercial rates to Clare County Council, Mr Barrett said, “We are just asking for a fair and reasonable return to be allocated for developing Shannon, bringing it in line with comparable towns.”

The Venue, he said, will promote and facilitate community, civic and creative activities. With Shannon Airport on its doorstep, Mr Barrett believes a tourism product in The Venue will attract more visitors to the town, generating income for accommodation providers. He appealed to the Shannon MD councillors to lobby and convince Clare County Council to provide support for The Venue with financial commitments in the short, medium and long-term.

The site acquired for The Shannon Venue

The site acquired for The Shannon Venue

In the short-term, he wants the council to help with the €170,000 needed to put together tender documents. Over the medium term, he wants the council to secure “an annual budget line” for The Venue. Urging councillors to explore whatever capital funding options are available, Mr Barrett commented, “We know that when projects are supported by Clare County Council, money can be found.”

Noting that the council has staked €4.5m of the €8.5m for a new county library in Ennis and €3m for Holy Island, Mr Barrett called again for a reasonable return for Shannon as the county’s main contributor of commercial rates.

Cllr Gerry Flynn commented that Shannon Municipal District councillors have allocated €4,000 to the Shannon Festival for this year, the highest grant payment out of 44 applications. Recalling when the county finance officer, Niall Barrett, was in charge at Shannon MD, Cllr Flynn said attempts were made to have The Venue funded through the budgetary process but Clare County Council refused to get involved. Cllr Flynn added, “The council can find money when it wants, but it seems to me that The Venue project is not being embraced by senior officials. With all due respect to senior officials within the council talk is cheap, but we want money.”

Cllr PJ Ryan said he has always been a strong supporter of The Venue. He would like to see the concept linked with Bunratty so that tourists might be encouraged to spend more time in the area. “If The Venue is up and running people can come and see a show here and there’s a good possibility they will stay overnight and generate more revenue for the area.”

Regarding the attitude of Clare County Council to the project, Cllr Ryan said that, in recent times, he has found that officials are leaning towards the idea. He predicted, “I think you will have a sea-change in officialdom in the very near future towards The Venue.”

The council’s director of social development, Liam Conneally, who now excercises executive responsibility for Shannon MD, felt that the meeting with Ministers Breen and Noonan had been very productive. Mr Conneally insisted that there must be a commercial component to The Venue proposal as focusing on the arts alone won’t sustain the project.

Emphasing one of Clare County Council biggest concerns, Mr Conneally said, “It’s one thing having capital funding, but it’s an entirely different proposition to be paying for annual costs.” While the council may facilitate raising the capital and loans for the construction of The Venue, he stated that maintaining and operating the facility is a huge undertaking.

Mr Conneally told the proposers, “Your business plan will be very important as the public purse will not kick in naturally in that space.” On a more positive note he believes that having the council’s chief executive, the director of economic development and the director of social development at the meeting with the Ministers Noonan and Breen, should not be underestimated. Mr Conneally confirmed, “the executive will support this proposal but we will be looking for your cost plans.”

In his concluding remark, Derek Barrett agreed that The Venue will have to be viable. He added, “the easy part is actually building it.”