POTENTIAL? The old ESB Power Station at Bellacorrick. Dara Calleary believes that sites like it and the old Asahi plant in Killala, connected to the National Grid, are hugely valuable options for renewable energy opportunities in Mayo. Pic: ESB Archives
One of the main stumbling blocks to balanced regional development is that the civil service ‘doesn’t understand the challenges’ in the west of Ireland.
That’s according to Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary who said political co-operation from the region is more prevalent than many people think.
“My own experience from 13 years as a TD is that permanent government doesn’t understand the challenges we face and political government moves on. Government terms are four and five years and really you can’t get a lot done in four or five years.
“So it’s how we change the mindset that says ‘no’, every time. That says that doesn’t add up based on some kind of a very narrow way of doing things. So let’s go back 30 years. The permanent government did not want to Knock Airport.
“Politics moved it. Look at, a, what it has done and, b, what it could do. It still faces that challenge in terms of moving it on to what it could do but the system seems to say ‘meh’. That’s a big issue.
“I know this series has been critical of political parties. Nobody goes to Leinster House or the Dáil without an ambition for Mayo or without an ambition for the West. And that’s true of people of all parties and independents.
“They do their best. But you’re banging against a stone wall at times, but we have to keep banging. That’s my view,” he said
Calleary cites Covid-19 and Brexit as examples how it is sometimes difficult for politicians to take a long-term view but says a greater collective approach can pay dividends.
“Politics tends to be moving from one crisis to the next. So politics at the moment we are focusing on Covid and Brexit, next week, it will be Covid and Brexit and health as we move into the winter and that’s the nature of politics worldwide.
“What we need to do is work collectively. And we are beginning to do that, and I genuinely believe that. A group of us across the region worked closely on the Western Rail Corridor, trying to demand that.
“I think politics is changing. And that’s a good thing. Leave the party jerseys aside because they’re not relevant to the west … So we need to work together and work more collectively,” he said.
Seeing the change
Project Ireland 2040, the Government’s long-term strategy, was launched by the Fine Gael led government in 2018. It is currently under review and Calleary said he is preparing submissions for that review.
“There are some good ideas in it but I’d be critical of it too. I be critical of the spin around it at the time in terms of creating an impression that things were going to transform themselves without necessarily changing the system around it,” he said.
What would a prosperous western region, on a par with the rest of the country, need to look like in 2040?
“It’s hard to go 20 years, because if you said to me in 2000 what Ireland looked like in 2020 we wouldn’t have known as much about the internet, or broadband or Covid.
“But look any future West has to be led by communities because community comes first.
We get obsessed about this economy thing and we forget that we need people. We need so many people to have services. And if people have services and have a job, they will stay in an area. We need a community that’s based on community values.
“It will be a region that’s based on low carbon. We are moving rapidly to a low carbon economy.
“So, we are ideally placed. How do we maximize the employment opportunities out of that? In terms of alternative energy, in terms of wind, in terms of looking at new technology, hydrogen – we could be really well placed here to develop hydrogen power using old style structures. We have, for instance, connections to the National Grid at Bellacorrick and Asahi. What are we doing with those connections, which are hugely valuable?
“Offshore wind is going to be crucial. How do we do it in a sustainable way? How do we ensure the benefit of it isn’t transitioned across to the east or off the island altogether? How do we make sure the employment benefits are retained here?
“It comes back to what I said about the education.
“Infrastructure is going to be important but if we make those kind of investments now, rail infrastructure, the Western Rail Corridor, the N5, the N26, and the Western Rail Corridor and Ireland West Airport, those investments now will be paying a massive dividend in 20 years time.”