LACK OF ACTION Jobs like those lost in the Henniges factory in Ballina, which closed in 2001, have not been replaced.
On the doorsteps
WE are constantly told that ‘we’ve never had it so good’. Unemployment figures continue to be at a low level in comparison to the bleak 1980s, but the reality here in Mayo is that there has not been a major industrial jobs announcement since Ballina Beverages (Coca Cola) came to the north Mayo capital seven years ago.
The huge expansion of the retail sector in Castlebar and Ballina has helped to gloss over the problem in some regards, but the fact remains that in a time of growth, industry and job creation elsewhere, Mayo has missed out. The reality is that jobs lost have outnumbered jobs created.
Ballina Chamber of Commerce have been very vocal in highlighting this particular plight. Last month they personally delivered a jobs petition with 6,000 signatures to the Minster for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Micheál Martin.
Chamber Chief Executive Louise McDonnell is quick to assert where the problem lies. She feels the blame for the lack of industrial growth in Ballina can be laid largely at the feet of the Industrial Development Agency (IDA).
“The IDA simply haven’t delivered for Ballina. The north west has been almost ignored and it needs major development. We don’t want the long-winded stories about strategies etc, we don’t want excuses, we just want jobs,” says Ms McDonnell.
Hand in hand with the demand for jobs in Ballina goes the need for the completion of the second stage of the N26, the major road corridor to the town. The lack of priority status for the stretch of road from Mount Falcon to Bohola is, says Ms McDonnell, another example of neglect in this part of the country.
“Other projects seem to get priority. We delivered 5,000 postcards to Martin Cullen [Minister for Transport] to give him a reminder of the commitment he made of having the N26 upgrade finished. We know enough money is available to allow the project get to the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) stage, we welcome that and we’d like to think we played our part but we need to push on from here and get priority in line with other parts of the country,” added Ms McDonnell.
Castlebar is arguably better served by infrastructure than Ballina and, while there has been a major retail boom in the town in the last decade, it has only partly helped to conceal the lack of any significant industrial jobs announcement since the closure of Volex in the town in July 2003.
“Infrastructure is not a problem,” argues John O’Shaughnessy of the Castlebar Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve been totally neglected by the IDA, however, and it is time they looked at us as a viable location. There are plenty of qualified and skilled young people in Castlebar who end up having to look elsewhere for work. Castlebar is a good town and it has a lot to offer. I think the IDA should not be afraid to come west rather than concentrating on areas like Dublin,” adds O’Shaughnessy.
A legal wrangle has held up the development of the IDA’s Business Park on the Sligo Road in Ballina and Ms McDonnell feels this is another example of the agency’s indifference towards the town.
“We need the IDA to sell Ballina to investors. They might say that it is only possible for them to find investors for places in Dublin but then that is a problem they need to investigate. They chose a site on the Sligo Road contrary to local advice. That park is ten years in the pipeline, it needs to become a reality,” continued Ms McDonnell.
The need for industrial development is something that John O’Shaughnessy feels politicians and local activists should be working together on.
Ms McDonnell feels the people of Ballina must return a TD to the Dáil.
“We need the Government to deliver industrial jobs to Ballina like they have all around the country. We are badly lacking a national public representative. No matter what your politics are, I think you need to be voting local.”
Dara Calleary FF
“Ballina is extremely lucky because we have one of the best Chambers of Commerce in Ireland. The Chamber has done more to promote Ballina than the IDA has. The IDA is the Government agency charged with promoting towns like Ballina and the fact that the Chamber is doing a better job says a lot about the IDA.
“When Ballina Beverages opened initially there was 2,500 applications for 160 jobs; we have the workforce and we have people who are willing and want to come home, we need the jobs for them. The fact that Ballina hasn’t had a TD for the last five years is another major problem. The Minister [for Enterprise, Trade and Employment] Micheál Martin has nobody in the corridors of Leinster House getting onto him about why there is no industry coming to Ballina.”
Jerry Cowley IND
“I think it is a basic right for people to live and work in their own area and this is something we cannot lose sight of. The IDA would say that the lack of infrastructure in Mayo is the major problem. I would agree with them in the sense that the N26 and the N5 are substandard.
“These two roads will be on my list for Mayo when I go to whoever the next potential Taoiseach may be. The alliance of independents is in a strong position because it is 50/50 as to whether it will be Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael who lead the next government.
“I agree that infrastructure is a problem but I’d have to question the IDA’s role too. You take some factories that closed down. It seems IDA were willing to sell rather than try to attract new industry to the locations.”