SEEKING BALANCED REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT Tabling a Dáil motion on the issue, Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh said successive governments have ‘failed rural Ireland’ by neglecting to extend the Western Rail Corridor to Claremorris, as well as up to Sligo.
Minister’s comments revealing of Government’s view on Western Rail Corridor
A recent Dáil private members’ motion focused on the Western Rail Corridor saw a number of telling contributions.
Mostly, they came from those arguing on the the merits of extending the WRC from Galway into Mayo and onto Sligo. There was significant cross-party support for the restoration of the railway, with Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Labour and strong Independents like Seán Canney and Catherine Connolly all rolling in behind the transport infrastructure for the west.
The motion was tabled by Sinn Féin’s Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh. She said the downgrading by the European Commission of the northern and western region of the Republic of Ireland from a ‘developed region’ to a ‘region in transition’ demonstrated the lack of sufficient investment in the region by successive governments.
Setting out the motion, Deputy Conway-Walsh said that successive Governments have ‘failed rural Ireland’.
“The Western Rail Corridor has become a byword for regional development and investment in the west. The west will not forgive another Government for failing to deliver on this project,” she said.
She cited the positive appraisal of the WRC by former ESRI economist Dr John Bradley, commissioned by advocacy group West on Track. Dr Bradley’s report concluded that there is a strong business case for the extension of the corridor from Athenry to Tuam and onto Claremorris, as well as onto Sligo.
For the uninitiated, the Bradley report was released earlier this year in the aftermath of a damning State-sanctioned report on the WRC by consultancy firms EY and Mott McDonald.
The differences in the two reports are striking. Dr Bradley’s report took issue with much of the data and assumptions used by EY, while his economist’s forensic eye filleted their report with cold, hard numbers.
Fundamentally, Dr Bradley’s report points to a positive benefit/cost ratio for the railway and outlines significant chasms in the capital and operational costs outlined by EY, as well as many other divergences.
There was a yawning void as to the rationale EY used for its figures – figures that, on the face of it, seem exorbitant.
Mention of the Bradley report in the Dáil chamber led to the following most instructive comment by Minister for State at the Department of Public Expenditure Patrick O’Donovan (FG):
“I do not think it would surprise anyone to know that a report commissioned by an advocacy group advocated reopening the line.”
We heard no comment from Minister O’Donovan on the EY report.
Dr Bradley’s report and its damning findings ought to lead to an investigation into how there were so many fatal errors in a State-sanctioned report that cost €300,000 of taxpayers’ money.
Yet instead of addressing that, the minister chose to snidely dismiss the Bradley report.
That the minister would imply that Dr Bradley carried out a report with a predetermined outcome is an unpardonable affront to a man who has been the epitome of professionalism and diligence throughout his career.
More cynical people might suggest that such an accusation could better be levelled in another direction.
Of course, we must acknowledge that Dr Bradley is a columnist with this newspaper. Perhaps Minister O’Donovan might opine that ‘I do not think it would surprise anyone that a report compiled by one of their columnists was defended by that newspaper’.
Equally, one could argue that it would surprise no one that a Fine Gael minister would seek to condemn a thoroughly researched and substantial report rather than address the hugely flawed official report.
This is, after all, a party that, at national level, has rarely shown any eagerness for the WRC and a party whose current leader, Leo Varadkar, when he was Minister for Transport, removed the Western Arc from the vital EU TEN-T Core funding network.
Cold, hard facts
When we defend the integrity of Dr Bradley, we do so on the basis of our relationship which gives us insight into the integrity and aptitude of the man.
Dr Bradley is a strong believer in balanced regional development but feels that any investment in this region must be justified on cold, hard facts and projections.
He is a former research professor with the ESRI and has also worked as a consultant and advisor to many EU countries, to the EU itself as well as global organisations like the World Bank.
His work is always evidence based, and he has a lifetime of expertise, making him the ideal person to carry out this type of assessment.
His analysis of the Economy of County Mayo (2019) is an exemplar for county and regional development strategies. His report on the Western Rail Corridor was equally fastidious and rigorous.
He is someone who should be extensively utilised by the Government and arms of the State to stress-test and advise on all aspects of regional development – if they are really serious about such development.
The lack of any stated defence of the EY report tells us that this Government knows how flawed it is.
The fact that Minister O’Donovan sought to ignore the EY report and sully Dr Bradley’s research, tells us a great deal about his and perhaps his Government’s view on meaningful balanced regional development.
That will surprise nobody either.