Plans to relocate the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to Charlestown have been placed ‘under review’ and look likely to be abandoned. The move, along with scrapping of the plan to relocate the Office of Public Works to Claremorris announced in the government’s cost-cutting measures last week, is a major blow to the region.
Charlestown was chosen as the new site for the department after plans to locate it at Knock Airport were rejected by An Bord Pleanála. Up to 80 of the Department’s staff were relocated to temporary accommodation in Tubbercurry, with the view of eventually relocating up to 180 jobs to the east Mayo town.
Mayo TD, John O’Mahony told The Mayo News that as far as he understood the decentralisation project was cancelled and the Department would not be moving to Charlestown. He said the decision was a major disappointment for Charlestown and the east Mayo region and called for a jobs creation package for the region.
“Plans were in place in Charlestown that would have brought jobs but the announcements this week have put paid to those. What is important now is the reaction to this news. I am appealing to the Taoiseach to do all he can to bring jobs to this region,” he said.
Deputy O’Mahony said the department would have been up and running had the Knock Airport plan not been objected to ‘by a person with no connection to the region’. He said the priority was now to ensure that the 80 jobs in Tubbercurry remain in the west along with the 30 jobs already in place in Claremorris.
The department’s staff currently in Tubbercurry were moved from the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs following the General Election to the The Department of Environment, Community, and Local Government, with specific responsibility for the community function. Ballina TD, Michelle Mulherin has called for those jobs to be transferred to Ballina where there is already a permanent Government offices.
Charlestown county councillor Gerry Murray said he was shocked to hear the decision to move the department to Charlestown was to be scrapped. He said that the project would have gone ahead had it not been for delays and objections.
Cllr Murray said he had been confident that with the Taoiseach and three government TDs in the county, the political will would have been there to locate the department in Charlestown, and that there was no excuse for it not going ahead.
Fianna Fáil TD, Dara Calleary pointed to the recent decision to close courthouses in Kiltimagh and Claremorris, and said this latest development was yet another government decision which will affect east Mayo. He added that he will be bringing the matter up in the Dáil.
The concept of decentralisation was touted over four decades ago by Charlestown journalist John Healy. In his famous book, ‘The Death of an Irish Town’ (1968), he said it would lead to a ‘new plantation of Connacht’ and would be ‘the anchor for further generations in that province’.