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Endgame for Western Development Commission?

Endgame for Western Development board?

Áine Ryan

AN AGENCY set up to help save western counties will have no exchequer monies in the coffers of its Investment Fund next year, The Mayo News can reveal.
This is yet another blow to the future of The Western Development Commission (WDC) whose abolition has been recommended by the controversial Bord Snip Nua report, by Dr Colm McCarthy.
Addressing Mayo County Councillors yesterday, Mr Paul Keyes, of the WDC, revealed that while three years ago the investment fund had €4 million in exchequer monies at its disposal, it had dramatically dropped to €495,000 by this year.
“Next year it looks as if there will be nothing and our initial indications are that the investment fund will have to rely on revolved funds from earlier investments,” Mr Keyes told The Mayo News afterwards.
Questioned on the future of the agency – that grew out of a movement led by a group of western bishops – Mr Keyes said: “Colm McCarthy made a whole suite of recommendations and among them was our abolition. We made a formal response and we have strong support from Minister Carey and the western ministers.”
He confirmed that to date the WDC Investment Fund had contributed € 9 million to 19 County Mayo enterprises, 16 of which are still operating.
Earlier, his colleague, Joanne Grehan, a Regional Development Executive, gave a detailed presentation to councillors and executives, attending the monthly meeting. She outlined the many changes in the county’s economic profile – particularly the diversification of agriculture – since the establishment of the commission in 1998.
Citing the fact that 71 per cent of Mayo’s population lived in rural areas, Mr Grehan noted that one of the key aims of the commission is to develop strategic and sustainable regional projects for this rural economy.
She also revealed that: “There are 4,500 people who have signed up to our skills and enterprise register on  the lookwest.ie website. If the right opportunity represented itself they would like to relocate to this region.”
Two key areas for development that have been identified are renewable energy and the creative economy, she said.
Regarding the latter, Ms Grehan said the success of the Swinford production The Hardy Bucks, whose producers have just signed a contract with RTE and, moreover, have been approached by the BBC is proof of the suitability of such initiatives.

Councillors respond

OPENING the debate, Fine Gael’s Cllr Michelle Mulherin said ‘the message that the WDC is to be disbanded is not acceptable’.
“We should not tolerate or accept that we are diminished in this way,” said Cllr Mulherin, a Ballina solicitor.
Cllr Joe Mellett said that ‘if Minister John Gormley had his way the entire population of the county would either be living in Castlebar or Ballina’.
Meanwhile, Cllr Peter Flynn asked ‘how do we influence national policy when it has been confirmed to me that Mayo is off the spectrum’.
On another note, Sinn Féin’s Cllr Rose Conway Walsh challenged the practical applicability of the commission’s strategy in such a changed economic environment.
Furthermore, Cllr Richard Finn argued that access to the region was key to its future economic development.
Independent Cllr Gerry Ginty observed that ‘red tape was strangling businesses’ and that the only agency that ever helped him was ‘the Mayo County Development team, which should be commended for their support’.
Achill’s Cllr Micheál McNamara stressed the continued demographic and economic challenges to the western part of the county.