COULD we be forgiven in Kerry for thinking we have a government that simply doesn't care about the economic prosperity of this little part of the island?
People in north Kerry are fast coming around to this view at least, as the billion-dollar potential investment that is the Shannon LNG gas plant enters even more uncertain times.
Just in case anyone is still in any doubt as to the potential of this plan, let us spell it out again. A massive gas plant could be built on the Shannon Development-owned landbank between Ballylongford and Tarbert, creating up to 400 jobs locally for the duration of the four-year build.
Once situated in north Kerry it could well have the added bonus of attracting more industry to the area and lead to a transformation of the economy of the entire region. The first year of the build alone would lift the area out of recession, locals believe. After more than 40 years of empty promises for industry on the landbank, the area finally stands to secure a major employer.
That the company has invested over €60 million on its Irish plans already, says much for its patience and more for the potential promise of the Irish market and the profits to be made here.
The project was originally brought in under the Strategic Infrastructure Act, a supposed 'fast-tracking' process. Once through the planning stage — against significant objection from some quarters locally — it was held up by an inordinate delay as two government departments tried to figure out where responsibility for the foreshore licence lay.
It now appears the regulator could charge the company €75 million a year for the upkeep of an already existing gas pipeline it will never use. That's enough to persuade LNG that Ireland is closed for business as far as it is concerned.
The regulator has said the government has the power to direct it on policy, which could see this charge set aside this charge. But the government takes a different line and insists it cannot influence the regulator because it is an independent body.
This latest depressing twist in the long-running saga beggars belief. How can a State that acts like this ever hope to get itself out of recession?
Here we have a foreign investor willing to stake up to $1 billion, creating hundreds of jobs and securing a major fuel source for the State in the process – the same State, that is so broke it is cutting even the tiniest of services for the most vulnerable in society. It is little wonder all in north Kerry are scratching their heads this week in disbelief.