STATING HIS CASE Mayo TD Dara Calleary believes the Atlantic Economic Corridor is a key vehicle for transforming the west. Pic: Michael Mc Laughlin
The Atlantic Economic Corridor has the potential to transform the west of Ireland but only if all the counties involved work together with a common purpose.
That’s according to Fianna Fáil TD for Mayo Dara Calleary who admits the corridor is ‘probably not’ resourced enough currently but says it underpins many of the key tenets of the current Programme for Government. Calleary was one of Fianna Fáil’s chief negotiators during those talks.
The Atlantic Economic Corridor runs along the western seaboard from Donegal to Kerry and was set-up with a shared goal – ‘to create a unified, connected and powerful Atlantic economy’.
Calleary says the importance of the corridor will become especially pronounced if worldwide trends sees any reduction in the numbers employed in Ireland in the multinationals, meaning a need for a greater than ever focus on indigenous industry.
“The model to date has been successful in terms of multinationals. We’re in a town here in Westport that is a poster boy for multinationals,” Calleary told The Mayo News in Westport this week.
“Castlebar and Ballina as well. The notion that in Mayo we produce the biggest amount of Botox in the world (in Allergan in Westport) and the second biggest amount of Coca Cola concentrate in the world (in Ballina) shows you the Mayo labour force is agile enough and skilled enough to meet that challenge, but that model, which is based on globalisation, is changing. And we have got to make sure, nationally, we are ahead of the curve in terms of that.
“At this stage you’re possibly in a defensive mode in relation to that (multinational) investment and you see where the debate is going in the USA. Trump and Biden are both saying ‘America first, jobs first’. We have to be very conscious of that and very attuned to that.
“So, we have to focus in on the smaller companies, we need the Portwests, the McHales, the Connollys, the locally Mayo-based companies, they need to be celebrated as much as we do our multinationals. We need to say to the big Mayo success stories, who are Mayo rooted, ‘yes, we will support you’.
“And that might involve a conversation and a campaign at EU level around state aid.
There were different models around state aid in terms of what governments could give grant wise to companies.
“I think given that we are in a new EU status here in the west and northwest, in terms of having moved to a region in transition, we should have the capacity to give greater state aid to businesses to develop here,” he said.
Calleary argues strongly for a greater focus on education, echoing calls from David Minton of the Northern and Western Regional Assembly for a technological university – an upgrade of status for the institutes of technology – in the region.
“We need to invest in the Atlantic Economic Corridor. It’s crucial. Every element of that is crucial. The one that we don’t look at enough is education.
“We need to invest in the technological universities, GMIT, IT Sligo, Letterkenny IT need to be able to come together in terms of a Technological University (TU) for Connacht and the northwest, that will grow those kinds of businesses and give people who are innovative, who have incubation space to actually grow businesses out of college.
“You know you have the workforce, you know you’ll get the workers, you know you have the space. If you have the broadband in place and the technology in place and the academic matter around you to back you … so that’s why we need to strengthen what we have and get the TU,” he said.
Calleary defended the lack of references to the Atlantic Economic Corridor in the current Programme for Government, something which has been criticised during this series.
“I’ve looked at the stuff in this series and and I know one of the criticisms and queries you had is it didn’t feature in the Programme for Government.
“It didn’t directly but it did. Everything I was putting in there had the economic corridor in mind.
“So we have to strengthen our infrastructure, our physical and our technical infrastructure, roads and broadband.
“I think the Western Rail Corridor is an essential part of the Atlantic Economic Corridor. So linking Athenry to Sligo and continuing that line on is a key priority. It links the regional centre of Galway to the rest of the region.
“Ireland West Airport will have the immediate challenge enforced by Covid. We have to get through that.
“We have the ongoing challenge of the Strategic Development Zone, developing the zone around it actually finally get what the original people behind the airport dreamed of, a much wider economic basis similar to Shannon but I see a Shannon for the 21st century,” he said.
Key to achieving the aims of the AEC and fulfilling its potential is, says Calleary, a ‘unity of purpose’.
“We need to be far more cohesive … I see the Atlantic Economic Corridor, not just as an infrastructural thing, but also as a coalition so that we know that we’re going after and so that we lay out what we want from a low carbon Ireland. We lay out what we want from investments in education. A Technological University is important.
“The county jersey is important and our county identity is important and identity within counties are important but too often it blinds us to a unity of purpose.
“Unless we have a greater unity of purpose in terms of infrastructure, in terms of investment and in terms of education, we will always be struggling,” he said.
He conceded that the AEC is ‘probably not’ resourced enough currently and suggested a home for it could be in the Department of Community and Rural Development, under the leadership of Minister for Social Protection and Community and Rural Development, Heather Humphries, whom Calleary described as ‘excellent’.
Having a broad spread of representation in any AEC bodies is crucial, Calleary argued.
“In order for the Economic Corridor to actually work needs to have representation from enterprise, representation from education, it has to have representation from communications in terms of broadband so it’s not just seen as a rural issue. It’s a much bigger issue than a rural issue, and a successful Atlantic Economic Corridor helps Dublin because it alleviates it in terms of some of its problems in terms of cost of living, access etc.
“What I’d like to see is there will be greater involvement of the elected members of each local authority, that each of the Cathaoirligh should meet quarterly as an Atlantic Economic Corridor Task Force, that the task force isn’t just at central government level.
“There has to be a local ownership of this concept as well. And I think the more locally owned it is, the more effective it will be. It provides the vehicle to overcome the disadvantages. There’s nothing better than putting on the green and red and shouting for your county. And I will fight for my country harder than anyone. But there’s also time when you put on the Connacht jersey and put on the regional jersey.”