Taoiseach in talks with promoters of international trade centre in Athlone


AN AMBITIOUS plan that could see a major international trade centre based in Athlone has been discussed by Taoiseach Brian Cowen and the project’s promoters.

The Irish Times understands a consortium of Chinese investors has been in talks with businessmen based in the midlands, including a local developer, solicitor and a restaurateur, for more than a year over the proposed project.

The development, if it goes ahead, would be based within a 300 hectares site on the fringes of Athlone known as Creggan and could create a significant number of jobs, thought to be in the thousands.

It is understood the IDA has also met with the Chinese group both in Ireland and in China, but the development body has declined to comment.

In Tullamore yesterday, Mr Cowen said: “It’s about exploring the potential of this idea, and I have met with some of the promoters, some of the people involved, to work with everyone in the area to see if we can proceed with it.”

It is understood the Chinese group has looked at a number of sites across Europe, and has yet to announce a final decision. It is thought the development would serve as a focal point for Chinese investment in Europe.

Longford-Westmeath Fianna Fáil TD Mary O’Rourke said she met three of the Chinese promoters about 18 months ago in her home.

“There were very elaborate plans all laid out on the floor. And, yes, that was the story they had; they wanted to make it a hub.”

Ms O’Rourke said the group met Minister of State Conor Lenihan in Dublin. The promoters told her the first 2,500 jobs would be Asian nationals.

She said she would like further information on the project.

“I would like, of course, to see it progress, but I would like hard facts as well. I don’t want any project to be one that would give hope without any fact behind it.”

Mr Cowen said Ireland was being viewed in a favourable light because of the “tough measures” being implemented to correct the public finances. “The country is being looked at positively by the international investment community because of the fact that we are taking these decisions,” he said yesterday.

Athlone mayor Mark Cooney said the development would be a major boost for the region.

“It would be marvellous for the town. It is served by the motorway directly off that area, by the Dublin/Galway railway line, so it has everything; all of the technical and major infrastructure is there in place.”

Meanwhile, Irish financial advisory firm FGS is hosting a seminar entitled “Doing Business in China” in the Sheraton hotel in Athlone today.

Announced several weeks ago, organisers say the conference is designed to provide information, relevant points of contact and interaction with others operating in the Chinese market.

Speakers include representatives from the Chinese embassy and Enterprise Ireland.