BILLIONS of dollars of investment creating up to 3,000 jobs will be achieved if 40 years of neglect on the Shannon estuary is ended, the chairman of the country's largest bulk port company has claimed.
Michael Collins, of Shannon Foynes Port Company (SFPC), said unique advantages – including deep water facilities – which no other Irish port enjoys, present an unprecedented global opportunity for the estuary.
One of the unrivalled strengths for the estuary is happening 5,000 miles away with the widening of the Panama Canal – the world's most important cargo route – which dictates the size of vessels globally.
The widening of the famed canal is due to conclude in 2015 and is set to double the size of supertankers and cargo ships.
The Shannon estuary is the only Irish deep water facility that can accommodate the giant new vessels.
SFPC has outlined, in its 30-year plan, that huge investment can be delivered to the region.
Mr Collins said the plan, which SFPC will aggressively push, needs to get onto the international promotional stage through work with inward investment agencies.
"Nothing much has happened in the greater Shannon estuary in the last 40 years.
"Inward investment into the Shannon region has been neglected."
Asked if he felt let down by regional state agencies and successive governments, Mr Collins said he "did not want to dwell on that too much".
"I think we have a new beginning."
He said there were tremendous opportunities with China growing its trade ties with Europe and the changing energy scene in the US.
Shannon estuary has deep water ports at Moneypoint, Aughinish, Foynes and Tarbet Island.
Planning permission has been secured for the expansion of a new dock at Foynes and the company is waiting for a foreshore licence. Construction work, employing 150 people, will begin in 2015.
Mr Collins said a new dock will allow for greater length of berth and manoeuvrability for larger ships.
"We recognise fully that globally ship sizes are increasing. Our immediate goal is to get our natural deep water facilities as a very global and marketable product onto the agenda of the inward investment agencies – that is priority one.
"I would be very, very disappointed if we don't have in the next two or three years a solid announcement of a substantial inward investment," he added.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said as food exports continue to increase and imports recover, the country will need more port capacity.
"SFPC has become a very well run profitable company and in addition to that there are natural assets here particularly with deep water which can be used in the future.
"The trend in shipping has been towards bigger ships and deeper ports and that's where the natural advantage is," he said.