SHOW OF SUPPORT Michael Ring, pictured with his party leader Leo Varadkar in Westport, said he had to fight very hard to get the support of the former Taoiseach and others for the funding for the new N5 Westport to Castlebar development. Pic: Conor McKeown
Former Minister ‘cannot understand the mentality of some of these people’
Deputy Michael Ring says he was ‘really surprised’ by the amount of people who told him before last February’s election that they would not be voting for him because of the new Westport to Turlough dual carriageway he had helped to secure.
When asked what are the main issues that are holding back the west, Deputy Ring – who was Minister for Rural and Community Development in the last government – first cited opposition to the €240 million road project.
“There’s people in the west too that are holding us back and I’ll give you an example,” he told The Mayo News.
“I put and I will take full credit for the N5 road and but for I kept at that for four or five years … I happened to be in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (as a Minister of State from 2011 to 2016) and I would meet the TII and the Department every quarter and what really surprised me at the election was the amount of people who said they weren’t voting for me because I was putting the new road in.
“It was the first time that we were actually starting a motorway in the west, to bring it to Dublin and I had people complaining about it. I cannot understand the mentality of some of these people … We have to think about raising our families, we’ve to think about creating jobs. We have to have the infrastructure,” he said.
“It was the same with the National Broadband Plan. I had to fight at cabinet and it was a really big fight and to be fair to the Government and to be fair to [former Taoiseach] Leo [Varadkar] and the Government, we made a political decision even when Fianna Fáil were questioning the price of it and we had to force them to come in behind us to support it.”
Deputy Ring is very optimistic about the future for Mayo and argues Covid-19 could represent a turning point.
“As a politician the amount of people who have been onto me looking to get better quality broadband is huge. They are now working from home. There’s people with very good jobs in elsewhere and can now work from home in Mayo, they don’t have to be going to the cities.
“If that infrastructure was there, we’d get a lot more investment. Another thing which is happening which is unusual is the amount of property that is now selling in rural Ireland is unbelievable.
“People are now making a conscious decision that they are going to get the broadband, they are looking at their quality of life and moving out of the cities and into rural Ireland. The Covid has, in one way, helped us. People have realised there is a balance between quality of life and jobs and careers. We can have the mix. If we put the infrastructure there, give people the opportunity … there’s people working for many multinational companies from their homes in Mayo,” he said.
Does he believe there are enough opportunities for businesses to setup their base in Mayo though?
“I do now. Of course we could always do with more incentives and the more we can incentivise people to get into rural Ireland, the better. But I do think the commitment is there now both from Enterprise Ireland and the IDA.
“If you go back to February, we were nearly at full employment. People forget in Mayo we have some fantastic multinational companies. You have McHales, you have Coca Cola, you have Allergan, Baxter. We’ve thousands of people working in multinational companies. We’re very lucky. You go to other counties and they don’t have anything like we have,” he argued.
However, with the northern and western region of Ireland considered a region in transition by the European Union, what are the challenges that need to be met to address such a status?
“There’s a lot of things. Infrastructure is the big thing. We do need the infrastructure. With regards to the roads, that issue has been dealt with and that’s good. The broadband is being dealt with, that’s good. If you are bringing in multinational companies, if you are bringing in anyone anywhere … you do need the infrastructure and that’s beginning to happen now and it took a while.
“We’re ahead of a lot of the cities in terms of some of the facilities we have in the regions. I think about many places I went to around the country that people in the cities don’t have. We have fantastic walks, fantastic golf courses, sporting facilities, great infrastructure for families but what we do need is more jobs in the region and that’s beginning to happen. Meissner in Castlebar, Allergan has increased their workforce over the past number of years.
“Sometimes we forget about the indigenous companies, we forget about Carraig Donn, we forget about McHales because they are our own, national companies and are doing very well and are multinational companies selling all over the world and sometimes we don’t give them the credit for the jobs they are creating.”
He credits many multinationals with ‘having the patience to stay with us’ when in years gone by and believes the new Westport to Turlough road will improve things greatly for industry in the region.
“It will bring Castlebar and Westport closer. We will be able to sell all these towns, we’ll have the infrastructure, we will have the broadband. You will be able to say to people you can get quicker into the county and out of the county. What was the biggest thing I had in my first 20 years in politics? I had Coca Cola, I had Allergan, I had Baxter, all these companies complaining about getting their goods to the market, getting damaged with the infrastructure that was there. We’re now correcting that and I want to say to them well done for having the patience to stay with us and keeping the jobs in the region.”