Wednesday 21 March 2018

A chamber of vision

New Fingal Dublin Chamber CEO, Anthony Cooney, talks to John Manning about his vision for the organisation and the future of the Fingal economy

Anthony Cooney
Anthony Cooney
Anthony Cooney is a former juvenile chairperson at St Sylvester’s GAA Club in Malahide

Anthony Cooney played hurling for his native Waterford and as his countymen prepared for the All-Ireland Final, he was settling into his new job at the helm of the Fingal Dublin Chamber as the organisation's new CEO.

Anthony might hail from the Deise but for more than 30 years he has lived in Dublin and for most of that time, he has been a resident of Fingal.

With vast experience in the business world, Anthony turned down a chance to move to the UK some time to stay in Malahide and a few years later, he finds himself leading the business community in Fingal at a challenging but exciting time for the region.

He told the Fingal Independent: 'This opportunity came along and it just appealed to me. It is a bit left-field from where I was historically. I was really in the cutting edge commercial side of business life. People like me, are that busy in the commercial world and in the buying and selling with a business doing €50 million a year but I also did a lot of networking and that was one of the things we specialised at in our business with our customers and prospective customers and it's the one thing we did impeccably well. We were always networking and that's what this job is all about.'

The new chamber CEO added: 'It (his new job) had all of the things I would have done in the past in terms of networking, putting businesses together, making contacts, making those relationships grow to the benefit of everybody and I have always been very interested as well in things like infrastructure and social issues.

'I see things like cycleways that you have from Clontarf to Sutton and that brings a lot of business with which is really good for the smaller guys like the guys with the pubs and the coffee shops and the restaurants and hotels. That's really good and important for them. Then there's the bigger infrastructure projects like Metro North which is a real issue that is live and current.

'There is Metro North and Dublin Airport Central - there's lots going on around here in Fingal and we have some big businesses here.'

Anthony is stepping into the big shoes left by retiring CEO, Tony Lambert who was at the helm of the organisation for more than 20 years and while he is conscious and appreciative of the legacy left behind by his predecessor, he is equally determined to be his own man.

He said: 'What I've got to do is now is bring my own style to it. The previous incumbent was Tony Lambert and I never met Tony. He really started this from scratch and it's come to where it is and now we need to move it on again and that's what I'm at.'

Commenting on the health of the organisation he is taking over, Anthony said: 'It's in pretty good shape. Obviously when people come into any position, they have their own ideas and I have mine.

'Now, it's very early days yet - I'm four days here. But the fact of the matter is there are things here that I would change and things I probably wouldn't change. We are lucky in that we have some very good staff here.

'One of those people is here a very long time and would know everything about the place which is invaluable to any business or any organisation. But I think it's a place that's in pretty good shape and there is a platform there you can build on, of that there is no doubt.'

So what are his own priorities for the chamber? The new CEO said: 'My priority is to reach out to the business community. We need to get a lot more members in here and there are a lot more members available to us.

'We need to project the image of the chamber in a very positive light. We need to maximise our social media presence and we need to make ourselves very relevant to our members and act on their behalf and not be afraid to act on their behalf.'

He added: 'We have got to dramatically grow our membership. A lot of people probably don't know we exist. Our social media presence is important in that and our website in our ability to reach out to people and our story and why people should become a member - that's critical and crucial to any representative organisation like ours.'

The new chamber CEO has identified a number of infrastructural projects that are crucial for the economic future of the region, including Metro North, better public transport around the economic hubs in Dublin 15 and continued expansion of Dublin Airport.

He explained: 'There's Metro North which is a huge infrastructural project which will have a massive benefit for Fingal.

'There's transport issues around some of the industrial hubs in Blanchardstown and Ballycoolin and Damastown - there are clear and significant transport issues out there and we need to see how we can act on the business there so they can get their staff in and out of their place of employment rather than everyone sitting in a queue in the car.

'There's lots of things to do and I think we can bring a lot of the clout of the chamber in behind those issues along with our national and local representatives in a positive fashion.'

On Metro North in particular, Anthony said: 'I think Metro will be a huge benefit to Swords as a town. Swords is bigger than a lot of towns around Ireland. I'm from Waterford and Swords is probably as big as Waterford, if not bigger - it is certainly growing faster that somewhere like Waterford. There are a lot of people coming here and we need better access for them.

'Access is the key to most things in infrastructure. But as well as being a great benefit to Swords, I think for Dublin Airport it is a must. We are at this point in time the only capital city in Europe without a train line to our main airport and that's a problem.'

Staying on Dublin Airport, the new chamber CEO is firm in his view that the planned new runway must go ahead. He said: 'The runway is a big project. The airport has to grow - it is growing now but there are certain constraints, infrastructural constraints and that is why they built T2 and why the Metro is coming in but if they don't have the runway capacity to bring the planes in it is going to severely limit the economic viability of all of this area.

'Dublin Airport is probably 4% of the GDP of this country - it's a massive economic hub and we have it right on our doorstep so we have to enable them and give them the facility and the tools to grow, otherwise it will have a knock on effect around the area here.'

The newly-appointed chamber CEO also supports the development of the Dublin Airport Central office project which he said will bring jobs and investment to the area.

He will be working on all of these issues with another new man on the job in Dalton Philips who was announced as the new daa Chief Executive in the very same week as Anthony was appointed to head the chamber.

On that appointment, Anthony said: 'It was only announced yesterday. Dalton Philips is joining and from the chamber, we wish him all the best. He's got a significant role to play in the economic future of Fingal as a region and he's got an impeccable track record. I don't know him but I know some of the businesses he worked in so I know some of the guys he would know. We will get to know him and we will be reaching out to him as soon as he comes in.'

As CEO of the chamber, Anthony will also be working closely with Fingal County Council, an organisation he had high regard for and working with the council, local businesses and other stakeholders, the chamber CEO is optimistic about Fingal's future despite looming challenges like Brexit.

He said: 'I want to see Fingal as being one of the foremost economic areas in the country, if not the foremost. We have everything going for us. We do need some infrastructure and I think we can justify it. The numbers of people in Fingal and the numbers of people migrating into Fingal will justify it and I think, apart from Dublin Airport and the other big industries we have, we are lucky to have someone like Fingal County Council who are as good and efficient as they are, to fight and provide on our behalf.'

Fingal Independent