Western Regional Development Conference on 17th July 2015

 

Speech of Declan O’Callaghan, Chairperson, Council for the West

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Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Declan O’Callaghan and on behalf of the Council for the West, of which I am Chairperson, I wish to welcome all of you to this Regional Development Conference which has been organised by the Council. In particular I wish to thank Minister Anne Phelan T.D and all our panel speakers for their participation; Patsy McGarry for acting as Conference Chair and the many public representatives as well as civic and religious leaders present for their attendance.

 

I wish to begin with some further acknowledgements.

 

I would like to thank Gerry Finn, Director of the Northern and Western Regional Assembly and his staff for making this fine venue available to us

 

I also wish to thank John Higgins of JH Public Affairs Ltd. for his work in organising this Conference, as well as the Council’s Co-ordinator, Caroline Wilson and Caroline Coffey of the Western Development Commission for dealing with registration and for their assistance generally.

 

Thanks also to Gaeltec Utilities Ltd., for its generous sponsorship of this event and to Durkin’s Bar and Restaurant, Ballaghaderreen for providing the catering facilities. Also on behalf of the Council I wish to extend our gratitude to the Western Bishops for their ongoing encouragement and support.

 

There are two principal reasons why the Council has decided to host this Conference at this time.

 

First of all we wish to commemorate the extraordinary contribution made to western development generally and to the Council for the West in particular by our recently deceased former Chairperson, the late Sean Hannick. Sean was a founding member of the Council and served as Chairperson from 2002 until his untimely death earlier this year.  It was an honour and a privilege for all of us on the Council to work with Sean over those years and to witness at first hand his drive and commitment in promoting the interests of the West of Ireland at every opportunity.  In his long and distinguished careers in business and in community development, Sean was both inspirational and exemplary. He made an indelible impression on his native Killala as well as on the West of Ireland in general and beyond. He energised and personified the Council for the West and we are proud to publicly honour his unique contribution today. 

 

I am also particularly pleased to acknowledge the presence here this afternoon of  Sean’s wife, Deirdre and their sons, John, Rory and Marcus and to welcome them to this Conference. -also, his sister Margaret Kilgallon and her husband John.

 

One of Sean’s many business ventures was Gaeltec Utilities Ltd., a market leader in the Energy and Renewables Sector and the sponsor of this conference, and in this regard I wish to welcome Sean’s colleague from Gaeltec, Declan Wynne, and to thank him for his assistance and attendance.

 

The other main purpose behind the holding of the Conference is to provide an opportunity to evaluate progress in relation to western regional development in the 21 years since the issue was addressed in a report entitled “Crusade for Survival”, which was the genesis of Council for the West. Furthermore, it enables us to address what is now required to ensure the viability of our towns, villages and rural areas. There is an urgent need to develop and implement policies and initiatives which will reinvigorate the west and provide us with the resources to breathe new life into each and every corner of our region. Hopefully this Conference will contribute significantly to that process.

 

We propose to consider the issue of regional development through the format of two panel discussions, one of which will consider the National and International context, whilst the other will focus on the Local perspective.

 

We will have contributions from Gerry Finn, CEO Northern and Western Regional Assembly; Finola Moylette, Principal Officer for Rural Development, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Joe Gilmore, Managing Director, Ireland West Airport; Council Member, Bishop Christy Jones; Professor Emeritus Seamus Caulfield, formerly of UCD; Sean Finan, President Macra na Feirme; Paddy McGuinness, Chair of the Western Development Commission; Ivan Mc Phillips lecturer in Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Rural Development at GMIT, as well as our Chairperson, Patsy McGarry, Ballaghaderreen native and Religious Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times.

 

There will be plenty of opportunity for questions and interaction between panel members and all present and we intend to engender a lively and thought-provoking debate from which valuable ideas will hopefully emerge.

 

We are fortunate to have as our keynote speaker Minister Anne Phelan T.D. Anne represents the Carlow/ Kilkenny Constituency and in July last year she was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport with special responsibility for Rural Economic Development. One of her tasks is the implementation of the CEDRA report.

Many of you will be aware that the report of CEDRA (The Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas) was delivered to Government towards the end of 2013. The Council for the West made a detailed submission to CEDRA. The need for equality of treatment for rural areas was at the core of that submission. Balanced regional development is not about pitting West against East or rural against urban- rather it is about ensuring equality of opportunity and investment throughout all regions of the country for the betterment of the Nation as a whole.

 

As we emerge from recession, a two-track economic recovery, with rural areas lagging behind, is already a reality and unless urgently addressed will result in irreversible regional imbalance, especially in areas that lack larger population centres that can act as magnets for capital investment.

 

Next year we commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Rising. It is, therefore, timely to remember that the Proclamation of the Irish Republic states that “The Republic guarantees…equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole Nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the Nation equally…” The concept of balanced regional development is, therefore, not merely some vague modern notion or woolly aspiration- rather it is a national political and social imperative, mandated by the title deed of this Republic.

 

In this context the Council’s submission to CEDRA contained four central demands. Firstly, we called for the establishment of a full Government Department of Rural Affairs. Secondly, we sought the introduction of a form of Equality Assessment for all national legislation to ensure same does not impact negatively on rural areas. Thirdly, we called for greater investment, for example, through increased capitalisation of the Investment Fund of the Western Development Commission. Fourthly, we sought effective Evaluation and Monitoring procedures to ensure the CEDRA Report is actually implemented and not left to gather dust on shelves like so many previous documents.

The validity of these demands was acknowledged in the CEDRA Report but not all of them were reflected in the list of recommendations. We intend to continue to campaign for the implementation of these proposals. For example, we believe that the creation of a full Department of Rural Affairs is essential.

 

The rationale behind this is that we are convinced there is a need for a fundamental paradigm shift in regional development policy formulation and delivery at Executive level. For too long the official attitude to this issue could be described as one of benign indifference. This is no longer tolerable. We now require a more focussed, planned and purposive approach on an ongoing and structured basis. A permanent seat at the Cabinet table is necessary in order to achieve this.

 

Our Constitution allows for the appointment of up to 15 Cabinet Ministers.

 Surely the survival and future viability of rural Ireland is one of the 15 most important issues facing this country and so merits a full and dedicated Government Department in its own right.

 

That said, we welcome the publication of the CEDRA Report and the 34 detailed recommendations it contains. Furthermore, we welcome the appointment of Anne Phelan as Minister of State, a post which will hopefully in time and as a consequence of the work done by Minister Phelan, be transformed into a full Cabinet Ministry. We wish her well in her important task and look forward to working closely with her. Specifically, we thank her for attending our conference this afternoon and agreeing to deliver the keynote address, which I know will be an informative and stimulating one. And so ladies and gentlemen, I wish to declare this Conference open and I invite you to please give a warm West of Ireland welcome to Minister Anne Phelan T.D.