Chambers calls on IBEC to have a stronger voice for the West of Ireland

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Chambers calls on IBEC to have a stronger voice for the West of Ireland

During an IBEC briefing to the Budgetary Oversight Committee Fianna Fáil Deputy for Mayo Lisa Chambers called on IBEC to have a stronger voice for infrastructural projects in the West of Ireland.

Speaking at the committee Deputy Chambers outlined to IBEC that, “in terms of public transport and road infrastructure we fair the worst in the country. I know from talking to businesses and our multinationals such as Allergan and Baxter the road network and the rail network is a huge problem in terms of retaining the business they have along with competing for new contracts when they come online with others in their own company where they have bases in other parts of the world”.

Director of Policy and Public Affairs for IBEC, Fergal O’Brien responded by saying the Deputy was right, “businesses in the West, particularly in the North West, in terms of access infrastructure, has a very significant impact on inward investment decisions and sustainability of existing jobs for indigenous companies it has a big impact in terms of cost in getting the product to market.”

In terms of Brexit, Mr O’Brien said “I think it becomes a renewed challenge, Ireland will now be the single most remote member of the European Union post Brexit. The additional complexities and delays of getting product to market through border checks, through a UK land bridge that we don’t know what the challenges and delays are going to be are all becoming more significant.”

Mr O’Brien also explained that “when we look at the national infrastructure map we didn’t finish the job the last time in terms of connecting the West and the North West of the country with Dublin and we haven’t made any progress in terms of connecting the regions to each other, they would be our two immediate priorities in terms of road upgrades. So the rational for example for an N4, N5 upgrade is very significant, when you look at the strength of the enterprise bases there what that is contributing to a local economy it more than pays for itself to make that road investment, he said.”

“The other big issue we need to take into account when we look at this sort of 2040 vision for the country is that if we plan on basis of current trends then you’re going to get a very different answer as opposed to planning on the basis of what the potential of the region would be if it had a significant infrastructure so we do have to take a certain ‘build it and they will come’ approach to our infrastructure otherwise we will create a self fulfilling prophecy for many of the regions that they decline and continue to decline overtime.”

Mr O’Brien finished by saying “our North West region is the only part of the country with a fall in population between the two census of 2011 and 2016 everywhere else the population in the country is rising and clearly there is a correlation, we think, to the particularly poor level of infrastructure that region has.”

Deputy Chambers expressed her interest in hearing IBEC’s views on the Western Rail Corridor and Knock Airport as major infrastructural projects the West would like to see advanced. In terms of the Western Rail Corridor, Mr O’Brien responded by saying “I think it needs to be able to support itself predominately for a socio economic basis…. I think it would be important for the tourism infrastructure in particular and support business through that.”

Deputy Chambers put the question of Freight and asked if there was value there, Mr O’Brien outlined that there was some opportunities there. “Clearly where we do have good rail infrastructure there’s been business opportunity around Freight,” he said.

Ger Brady IBEC’s Senior Economist said that “the North West and the road infrastructure, in particularly where you saw projects cancelled, there was about 50 projects either stalled or cancelled at the end of the last capital investment programme because we ran out of money, half of them are in the North West.”

“We also have a situation where N4, N5 in particular the Freight levels on the N4, N5 are higher actually than some of our motorways at the moment, there’s a BREXIT implication of that aswell. There’s three access roads to the North West, two of them run through the North, if you end up with a hard border, you could have two customs borders on the A5, Enniskillen road, the N4 will then take all the traffic going to the North West. You already see capacity on the longford bypass of about 14,000 cars a day plus 1,000 heavy goods vehicles and the capacity is about 10,000 so it is already unsafe in terms of capacity and it only going to get worse”, he said.

Deputy Chambers then asked “what would you see as the benefits to a rail link to Foynes port for freight given the additional pressure, we only have one Freight link that goes for Mayo straight to Dublin, if that goes down or is blocked, that’s our Freight blocked for the entire Western region. This is something businesses in the West are concerned about in terms of increasing their capacity or attacking new contracts or investing further because if that line is blocked even for half a day that means their business is seriously hit financially and there is no alternative route, she said”

“A link from say Claremorris as a commuter base into Galway and on to Limerick, I think there would be potential to grow the population in Mayo then because you’d have an offshoot from Claremorris to Castlebar and Ballina, there would be potential there for a commuter belt outside of Galway because you’re saying that you’re interested in spreading the population growth between the cities if you want to see Galway and Limerick increase in population, surely we should be looking at connecting those cities to the wider areas and that would include, Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon, so we do need these sort of industry to advance these projects”, she said.

Referring to documentation presented to the committee by IBEC, Deputy Chambers said, “it’s interesting you’ve got maps showing the 1739 map of our road network and if we look at the 2015 road network it’s very clear from those maps there is nothing in the North West in either map, we haven’t actually addressed the issue in the last couple of hundred years, The North West is consistently left off and same with Ten – T funding, this is why I’m asking what your view is on this, the West of Ireland does not feature on the map, we were not included, it goes from Cork to Dublin to Belfast with a little offshoot into Limerick courtesy of Minister Noonan and the North West was just left off it. So how are we supposed to advance our infrastructure, and I welcome your suggestions on this, how are we supposed to advance our infrastructure if we’re to even included in the pot to access funding? What do we do next?

“I’m surrounded by Dublin Deputies on this particular committee fighting the good fight for the West. Not to diminish in any way, funding going to Dublin, it’s our capital city it should be supported… But if we’re serious about balanced regional development we need to start looking at the North West because it’s left off every map that you look at,” she continued.

“Knock Airport, what do we do? Because again our industries, not just our multinationals, because most people in the West are employed in the SME sector, companies employing 1 – 10 people, access to that airport and the potential for growth around that airport, it’s not being looked at, it’s not being considered, nothing is being done, that airport is the best economically run airport in the country, hands down it is the most efficient airport in the country and it is just being met with a blocked wall all the time, so what do we do?

IBEC’s representatives agreed with the Deputy, but expressed the need for a larger capital investment envelope. IBEC expressed that in their connected document they have a vision for a C ring right around the country and that Knock Airport is included in that ring but the roads needed to be upgraded first and simply more investment was needed.

Deputy Chambers then went on to discuss IBEC’s documents further, “one of your briefing documents states that ‘existing planning does not take account of the additional impact associated with tourism and business’ and again I’m going to focus on the North West, we’ve had the Wild Atlantic Way launched with much fan fair, it’s been a massive success and tourism visitors across the western region not just in Mayo but across the west and Donegal as well has increased, so I’m glad that your document reflects the fact that planning is not acknowledging this,”

“We’re all ‘happy clappy’ to say ‘oh we’ve got the West of Ireland when tourism comes, send them down for their hot whiskeys and they’re walks along the hills’, but we’ve no interest in actually providing the infrastructure and the resources to the people living there. If we continue to suck the life out of the West as we have been doing for the last ten years, there will be nothing to go and visit because there will be nobody to run the local shop or the local pub and to provide the accommodation for these visitors that we all say is necessary to the entire economy of our country, she continued.”

Deputy Chambers finished by saying “I think from an IBEC’s perspective we need to see a stronger voice, we need to see you fighting more for the infrastructural projects in the West of Ireland, because our voice is quite weak at the national table, we have not been listened to in the last number or years. You have huge business interests, businesses you represent in that region…. I don’t hear you often enough standing up for the West and the impact that a lack of investment into that region has not only for the West but for the entire country.

“I’m asking you to take that on board for any future policy documents that you produce, any future campaigns that you run, to have a stronger voice for the West of Ireland, please.”