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Council for the West

Presentation to the Western Public Representatives on Wednesday 18th May 2005

Agenda

* Chairman's Opening Address
* Council for the West Background
* Specific Issues of Concern
* Employment
* Infrastructure
* Regional Imbalance
* Working towards our Shared Vision
* Discussion

Council for the West Background

We are a voluntary, independent, non-political body which:
* monitors and reports on the socio-economic state of the West
* acts as a lobby group promoting the development of the West

Background:

1987: Western Bishops issue pastoral letter on Emigration.
1987-'90: Rising levels of unemployment and emigration.
Requests to Bishops to intervene e.g. South Galway on plight of farmers, North Mayo on emigration.
1991: Bishops organise major conference in Galway. The keynote speaker was John Hume. Movement called "Developing the West Together" launched. Core groups set up in every diocese.
1992: European Funding for socio-economic study of the West.
1994: "Crusade for Survival" (Report on study) launched. Government sets up task force to make recommendations.
Action plan published.

Principal Outcomes:

* Establishment of the Council for the West by Bishops.
* Establishment of the Western Development Commission by Government.
* Successful campaign for retention of Objective 1 Status for the region.
* Ongoing campaign towards achieving balanced regional development and highlight issues of major concern for the region.

Specific Issues of Concern

Employment Concerns

* Locking the BMW into the slow lane

The current success and the future of the Irish economy is recognised by everyone to be reliant on nothing more than our human resources. A knowledge society based on a diversely educated workforce is essential for success in the future. The creation of knowledge through basic research and the application of that knowledge through applied research is now and even more so in the future will be the infrastructure on which economic success will be built.

A region which creates new knowledge through research and then has the capability to apply that knowledge is clearly an advantage over a region which is only allowed to apply the knowledge created elsewhere. The South and East Region has six universities and eight institutes of technology. The BMW Region has one university and six institutes of technology campuses.

The OECD Review of Higher Education in Ireland has recommended that the institutes of technology be put back into their role as defined in the 1970s, that they only be allowed apply knowledge created elsewhere and even where they have developed to awarding higher postgraduates degrees that this right should be rescinded. They also recommended that institutes of technology be denied access to research funding except specific funding from Enterprise Ireland. The OECD team of experts when in Ireland visited three universities and six institutes but did not set foot in the BMW region.

If one wished to devise a way to permanently institutionalise a two speed economy in Ireland with the BMW Region falling further and further behind the South and East region the best way to do so would be to implement the recent OECD Review of Higher Education in Ireland.

* Outward Migration

Outward migration, especially among graduates, remains a problem in the West.

* IDA Commitment

The IDA has failed to deliver on its commitment to ensuring 50% of Greenfield jobs are located in the BMW Region. The IDA end of year Statement for 2004 did not contain any specific reference to this commitment. The Report merely contents itself with stating that half the investments supported by IDA in 2004 were located outside of Dublin but of these only two of the total of 70 new investments were located in the West.

The IDA continually highlight the infrastructure deficiencies in the region as the main reason for the failure to attract more investment. This factor alone cannot however justify the IDA failure to meet its own commitment. Political pressure on the IDA must be maintained and increased to make sure it delivers for this region.

Infrastructure

Transport

* Roads

The deficiency in Road Access remains a major deterrent to economic development in the West. The Western Development Commission outlined its priorities for the National Road Development programme last year. These include the main arteries into and within the region for example N4, N5, N6, N15, N16, N17, N18 and N26. These examples give us an idea of the level of investment required.

* Rail

The Western Rail Corridor.
The report to the Minister for Transport from the Chairman of the Expert Working Group on the Western Rail Corridor published last week points out that "balanced regional development and the front loading of infrastructure are critical to the development of the whole region". The general conclusion is that a strong case can be made for the restoration of the line which would link Sligo and Limerick. This project is a political and economic priority for the West of Ireland. The Council strongly supports the Report's recommendations that a Western Rail Corridor implementation group be established that would oversee the implementation of the Report and indeed the overall project.

* Air

In a Western Development Commission survey, Air Access was 6th out of 18 factors which influenced location decisions. Air Access is also vital for the development of the region's Tourism business. Increased capital support from the Government is essential for the development of all of the airports in the region and particularly for the future growth of the region's two International Airports at Knock and Shannon. Knock International Airport has grown significantly in recent years. Passenger numbers increased by 25% in 2003 and 50% in 2004 and the airport has a target of 1million passengers per annum by 2009. Further investment in Knock International Airport will have a direct and immediate beneficial effect on the region.

Energy

* Electricity

This remains an urgent need to extend the 220kv line from Sligo through Ballina, Castlebar, Tuam and onwards to Galway to complete the loop.

* Gas

It is essential that the pipeline from the Corrib Gas Field be routed through the centre of the province in order to benefit it to the maximum extent. The gas pipeline should be routed through Knock Airport, Ballaghaderreen, Carrick-on-Shannon, Boyle, Sligo and Donegal. This would benefit other towns on the route also.
The government can avail of the PSO facility for this purpose.

Telecommunications

* Services

There is a need for a general upgrade in the Region's telecommunication services in particular in remote areas, many of which are still serviced by out of date carrier equipment and inefficient copper lines creating a need to upgrade to fibre optic loops -- especially for business.

* Broadband

The Council welcomes the ongoing roll-out of the Broadband services in many towns and actively supports the continuation of this programme.

It is absolutely critical that the west has a telecommunications network of international standard. Investment in universal broadband infrastructure in the west can quickly bring us onto a par with other regions. Government is already doing a lot but investment needs to be stepped up.

Regional Imbalance

* BMW Region Spend Lags behind

Up to the end of 2004, expenditure on national roads under the Economic and Social Infrastructural Operation Programme showed the BMW region running at 69% of the forecasted spending whilst the South and East region was running at 144%. In real terms this means that spending in the BMW region under the ESIOP Programme alone was approximately 750m less than what it was promised to be over the first four years of the National Development Plan. Recent Government figures have shown an increase in the level of spending in the BMW Region but unless steps are taken to ensure that the spend in the BMW Region matches that projected, the region will fall further behind the rest of the country in infrastructural terms.

* State Aid

The ending of Objective 1 Status for the BMW region at the end of 2006 entails a further danger for the region in that the increased level of State Aid which could be provided to enterprises in the Objective 1 Area through the various State Agencies will also cease. Urgent government action is required to ensure that this vital State Aid does not come to an abrupt end but is maintained at least for a transitional period of several years.

* Capital Envelopes

The Government's Capital Envelopes for the period 2006 2010 will be fixed by next year. Discussion on these will begin over the coming months. It is essential that the Capital expenditure which is earmarked for the BMW region be ring fenced so it can be only spent in the BMW region. Such ring fencing extists for certain EU funds but not for National Exchequer funds. Without this ring fencing being put in place from the start, funds earmarked for much needed and overdue initiatives in the BMW region will more than likely be gobbled up by the insatiable appetite of the Eastern Region for even more expenditure on major Capital Projects.

Working towards our Shared Vision

All our efforts are channelled towards the reinvigoration of the West in ways that will benefit the people to the maximum extent and enable our people, young and old, to enjoy a quality of life comparable with the best available anywhere. We invite you, our elected Public Representatives, to share this vision and to assist us in practical ways in achieving it. There are many ways in which you can assist us. We do not have all the answers. We have highlighted some major issues of concern.

We also have other ideas. For example we would like to see the development of a large scale Business Park centred in the vicinity of Knock International Airport which would be a significant boost to the whole region. This proposal would benefit greatly from the provision of accelerated capital allowances. We believe that such a policy if properly structured would be compatible with EU policies in respect of regional development and State Aid.

We also suggest that the taxation incentives applicable in the region, which are currently being reviewed by the Department of Finance, should be continued as a means of attracting additional investment and population and increasing competitiveness.

We invite you to consider ways in which you can individually and collectively support our objectives. We will be happy to co-operate fully with you in all aspects and look forward to receiving your co-operation and support in return.