Cabinet makes raft of announcements at meeting in Cork

By Eoin English

It's either a feast or a famine, as the saying goes. But the Government delivered a little bit of both during its Cabinet meeting in Cork today.

Amid the regular government business of Brexit and health reform, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar turned his focus and attention towards Munster, and Cork in particular, and confirmed that the recession-shelved Cork to Limerick motorway will be included in the 10-year capital plan, with details to be announced within weeks.

Speaking at a Cork Chamber breakfast briefing in the revamped Pairc Ui Chaoimh, the Taoiseach said funds will no longer be a barrier to the huge road project with the expectation that enough funding will be announced within weeks to begin site preparation, design and planning works to bring the project to An Bord Pleanala stage within a matter of years.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed announced some €8.8m in funding for the development of a national food innovation hub at the Teagasc facility in Moorepark in Fermoy.

And Arts Minister Heather Humphreys announced that UCC will host the 2018 National Famine Commemoration, in collaboration with Cork City Council, in May 2018 with the launch of The Great Famine Online the focal point.

But there was still no word on a decision about possible extra funding for the city's stalled events centre.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney reminded the media that there is still €20m of state funding on the table and that talks will take place on possible extra state funding over the coming weeks.

But he was quick to underline his, the Taoiseach's and the Finance Minister's commitment to getting the project over the line.

Crowd control barriers were erected around the university's historic quad from early morning before it was sealed off as the Taoiseach and his Cabinet colleagues arrived on campus around 9.30am.

Several gardaí, backed by dozens of UCC security staff, were on duty across campus, with gardaí maintaining a presence at the university's main entrances, and several more on duty in and around the quad.

Mr Varadkar was greeted by UCC President Patrick O'Shea before they both walked through the quad's famous arch, in a highly choreographed move, before he was escorted into the North Wing to sign the university's visitors' book.

In the plush surroundings of UCC's staff common room, the Taoiseach addressed the media, flanked by Mr Coveney, Health Minister Simon Harris, and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone.

They talked Brexit, health reform and insisted the government will prioritise major infrastructural projects in and around Cork to ensure balanced regional growth over the next 30 to 40 years,

before they were escorted upstairs to the university's board room where the Taoiseach chaired a full Cabinet meeting - the first hosted by an Irish university.

The morning session was dominated by Brexit - the afternoon by health reform.

It was lunchtime before the chants of protest began to ring out around campus.

Representatives drawn from UCC's Connolly Youth, UCC's LGBT Society, UCC Labour Society, UCC's Feminist Society, as well as members of the on-campus Green Party and Sinn Féin branches, formed a small but vocal group of some 50 students, who gathered behind a crowd control barrier outside the Boole library.

They did their best, with the help of a megaphone, to make their views known on everything from the 8th Amendment to college fees.

But the stiffening Autumn winds carried the chants off into the air, making it difficult for their voices to be heard beyond the quad and the North Wing.

The Taoiseach and various ministers then took a break around lunchtime to meet and greet some of the university's administrative staff in the North Wing.

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