New Report Calls For More Support For SMEs in the North and West

  • Chairperson of the NWRA, Cllr Christy Hyland has led calls for Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar to consider these findings.
  • Northern and Western Region, only region in Ireland classed as a, moderate innovator
  • SMEs in the North and West slowest to recover from impact of Covid-19

It is imperative that any new National Research and Innovation Strategy adopts a regional approach and considers the strategic priorities, according to the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA), at the launch of its new toolkit on innovation titled “Innovation Diffusion in the Northern and Western Region of Ireland; A Regional Approach.”

Why is this important? According to David Minton, Director with the NWRA; “It’s simple; the goal, at least in business, is to convince the most individuals possible to embrace a new product, service or idea. If the consumer accepts the notion that a product, service or idea is innovative, they’re more likely to engage with the product as it diffuses (or spreads) through the marketplace. As policy makers our job is to remove barriers to this and stimulate regional activity”.

This report was prepared as part of an OECD project to develop a self-assessment toolkit for barriers to regional innovation diffusion that aims to provide policy makers a tool to assess strengths and weaknesses of innovation diffusion channels in their regions.

The degree to which a region’s economy can grow depends on a variety of factors – including but not limited to – the ability to create an environment that supports and harnesses the potential of research and innovation.

Commenting on the report’s release, Stephan Raes, Policy Analyst with the OECD, said: “This pilot study of innovation diffusion in the Northern and Western Region of Ireland benefited from close cooperation with the NRWA and active participation by stakeholders in the region. This provided valuable insights on how the region benefits from the contributions of its small, family-owned firms up to its cutting-edge companies and innovative universities and on how the region’s intermediaries play in actively supporting the diffusion of knowledge and administering policy instruments such as innovation vouchers.”

The EU’s 2021 “Regional Innovation Scoreboard” shows that the Northern and Western Region is now the only region in Ireland to be classified as a “Moderate Innovator”. Within this context, it is clear that the research and innovation capacity of the region needs additional resources to stimulate the economy and assist in its recovery following the economic impact of COVID-19 and Brexit.

Patrick Devine, with the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) said that “that innovation diffusion  in the Northern and Western Region of Ireland functions well, and interestingly slightly better than in Ireland as a whole. This is down to a spirit of real cooperation. However, we do have distinct challenges, particularly relating to digitalisation of our SMEs and the rate of cluster and sectoral alignment.”.

This was captured in a new report published shortly after the recent announcement of the new Atlantic Technological University.

John Daly, Economist with the NWRA, noted that “A region’s research and innovation system plays a critical role in improving productivity levels, fostering competitiveness and creating and attracting high value jobs to regions”.

In welcoming the publication, Devine said that “Earlier this year, we welcomed the support received by the OECD and the European Commission to develop a new toolkit that would allow regional policy makers to implement an up-to-date assessment of bottlenecks for innovation diffusion, both in our region but also elsewhere. It is imperative we address the structural weaknesses underpinning our moderate innovator status”.

Denis Kelly, Senior Planner with the NWRA said that “It is clear that research and innovation will be instrumental to achieving effective regional development in Ireland. With that we have identified investments to underpin a new model for regional innovation and entrepreneurial training. Significant opportunities exist to exploit and build on existing investments in data analytics, digital innovation hubs, regional accelerators and enhanced supports to our SME’s”.

Kelly went further on the findings of the report, acknowledging that “as a region we need to accelerate the translation of cutting-edge research into commercial applications. Our new
Technological University is at an embryonic stage and needs a wider research footprint with more scope to engage directly with local and regional business, industry and enterprise stakeholders”.

During the research, many stakeholders underlined the need for better functioning clusters in various technology areas between Higher Education Institutes, research institutes, large and small business and start-ups, most of which was emphasised as a key driver for innovation diffusion and productivity growth.

The NWRA aims to use this toolkit as a way of recognising the challenges that exist within the innovation ecosystem, but to identify opportunities for improving policy in collaboration with regional stakeholders. Chairperson of the NWRA, Cllr Christy Hyland has led calls for Minister Simon Harris to consider this as part of the new National Research and Innovation Strategy.


Download the Report 

Next phase of O’Connell Street works to start early in New Year

This is the second phase of a project which commenced with a pedestrian priority zone at the heart of Sligo town

Thanks to the EU, the historic street has more space than ever, creating a more accessible and attractive town centre for pedestrians and local businesses alike.

The enhancements have transformed the street with newly widened pavements, landscaping and street furniture – the result is a beautiful town thoroughfare that retains all of its original charm.

Additionally, the enhancements help reduce town centre traffic congestion and offers accessible parking for disabled visitors.

The works also benefited the iconic businesses that O’Connell Street is renowned for, which now have allocated service bays and increased pedestrian footfall.

The project targets sustainable urban development as part of integrated plans to tackle economic, environment, climate, demographic and social challenges which affect the urban area of Sligo.

Now the contract has been signed for phase two of the project and work on this phase will start early next year.

David Minton, NWRA Director, was present at the official signing of the contracts event.

Funding for phase 2 of the project comes from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF). The Northern and Western Regional Assembly are the managing authority for the European Regional Development Fund in this region.

Phase 2 consists of approximately 180m of existing roadway and footpaths along O’Connell Street, Lower Knox Street, Hyde Bridge, Fish Quay and Wine Street in Sligo. It is envisaged that the new street scape provided in Phase 1 will continue from O’Connell Street in both an easterly and westerly direction to Wine Street and lower Knox Street respectively. Works will also extend along Fish Quay towards the entrance of the Glass House Hotel.

This approach will provide a seamless transition from one street to another, further adding to the pedestrian experience.

The works involve the construction of widened footpaths using granite paving and the narrowing and resurfacing of the existing roadways. The works incorporate the construction of a new surface water drainage network and connection to the existing network, the construction of new ducting infrastructure for utility services, and the provision of road markings, street furniture, and signage.

The Project will provide an upgraded junction at Wine Street/O’Connell Street/Lower Knox Street incorporating new controlled pedestrian crossings.

NPA Annual Event 2021: Redefining Peripherality

The Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme is pleased to announce the date for its 2021 Annual Conference on 27th October 2021 in Sligo in Ireland.


The Annual conference theme is “Redefining Peripherality”. Relevant information about the Interreg NPA 2021-2027 will also be shared during the event. Follow the updates on social media with the hashtag #NPA2021Sligo.

Redefining Peripherality

The NPA Annual Event 2021 will look at the recent developments in the Northern Periphery and Arctic, including the transformative changes triggered by the pandemic, and how they are addressed by the NPA projects and can be addressed in the future programme.

The conference will be the opportunity to discuss how the perception of the periphery has changed and initiated or accelerated changes in e.g. ways of working, living, providing services and taking decisions. The benefits of cooperation across Arctic and near-Arctic regions also emerged during the past period showing how the exchange of knowledge and expertise between the regions played a key role in building response capacity and preparedness for the future.

Some of the questions NPA project partners, keynote speakers and participants will be addressing:

What does the new periphery look like?
What new opportunities are coming up?
What changes are needed to harness such opportunities?
To which quality of life in the periphery are we aspiring for the future?
2021 also marks the transition between the NPA 2014-2020 programme, and the beginning of the next Interreg NPA 2021-2027 programme. The conference will not miss to look at the 2014-2020 achievements and introduce the vision and funding priorities of the new programme.

The NPA Annual Event will broadcast from The Model, in Sligo, where the conference will hopefully take place in person for a local audience.





13:00 – Welcome words
Welcome words from the Northern & Western Regional Assembly, Ireland

13:30 – Redefining Peripherality
How has the NPA area changed since 2014? Observing the changes in the NPA area from 2014 until now and trends for the future based on the area analysis.
Dr Irene McMaster, European Policy Research Centre, University of Strathclyde, Scotland
Findings and Recommendations from the COVID-19 Response group projects
Panel discussion between members of the COVID-19 response group:
Dr Thomas Fisher, Lead partner of NPA project Covid & Economics, CoDel, Scotland
Prof. Liam Glynn, Lead partner of NPA project COVIDWATCH EU, University of Limerick, Ireland
Prof. Joan Condell, Lead partner of NPA project TechSolns, University of Ulster
Prof. Anette Fosse, partner in NPA project COVIDWATCH EU, The Arctic University of Norway
Questions and Answers with Irene McMaster and the members of the panel.

14:30 – 15:00 Coffee Break

15:00 – Networking Session, NPA projects solutions for a new periphery

Separate thematic sessions online and one session on site. Each of the sessions will look at a topic addressed by the NPA 2021-2027 and will discuss how future NPA projects can contribute to the objectives of the new programme, also taking into account the solutions developed by the projects carried out throughout 2014-2020.

To participate in the thematic sessions it is necessary to register for the online event.

Innovation Capacity – How can NPA projects support the uptake of advanced technologies, reap the benefits of digitisation and enhance sustainable growth & competitiveness of SMEs?
Hosted by the NPA project DISTINCT

Climate change and resource sufficiency (online and physical)- How can NPA projects promote energy efficiency, climate change adaptation and disaster risk prevention? How can they promote the transition to a circular and resource-efficient economy?
Hosted by the NPA project HUGE

Natural and cultural heritage – How can NPA projects protect and develop wider territorial synergies through natural and cultural heritage?
Hosted by the NPA project SPOT Lit

16:00 – Periphery and Arctic, a mutually beneficial cooperation

The new EU Arctic Policy and the role of transnational cooperation
Mr Michael Mann, EU Ambassador at Large for the Arctic, European Union External Action Services
The Irish Government’s Strategy for the Nordic Region
Mr Ciarán Byrne, Deputy Director of EU Policy Division, Department of Foreign Affairs, Ireland
The Network of Arctic Researchers in Ireland (NARI): Fostering opportunities for collaboration
Dr Audrey Morley, The President of Network of Arctic Researchers in Ireland
Debate with the audience

16:30 – Looking ahead to the Interreg NPA 2021-2027

The Interreg Northern Periphery and Arctic 2021-2027
Ms Kirsti Mijnhijmer, Head of Secretariat, Northern Periphery and Arctic programme
Questions and Answers

17:00 – Wrap up and closure

NWRA Calls for Significant Budget Stimulus Package in Budget 2022 To Revitalise North-west Economy


  • The economy of the North-West of Ireland has been declining in recent years.
  • Such a decline has been accompanied by a lack of investment from Central Government
  • Failure to support the North-West’s economy will undermine Government policy.
  • North-West needs a sizeable stimulus package and a policy of “Positive Discrimination”.

The North West Regional Assembly, one of Ireland’s three regional authorities, is calling for Budget 2022 to revitalise the North-West’s economy and to address the long-term underinvestment in the region’s infrastructure, by providing a sizeable stimulus package for the North-West of Ireland.

In its pre-budget submission, the NWRA has highlighted the economic challenges facing the North-West of Ireland and how the region’s economy is being left behind with an urgent call for support.

John Daly NWRA’s Chief Economist said: “The decline in the North-West’s economy is evident from the European Commission’s decision to downgrade the region’s economic status from a ‘More Developed Region’ to a ‘Transition Region’ – the only region in Ireland to hold such a status – while the North-West was the only region in Ireland to be classified as a ‘Moderate Innovator’, namely a region with an innovation index score between 70% and 100% of the EU average.”

Mr Daly added: “The European Parliament has also categorised the North-West as a ‘Lagging Region’, which is a region with low economic growth and divergent from the performance of its own national economy. These designations highlight the notable challenges facing the North-West’s economy; with such issues common in some of the poorest regions in the EU”.

The Assembly’s Pre-Budget submission shows that the decline in the North-West’s economy was also accompanied by long-term underinvestment in the region’s transport, research, education and health infrastructure. Notably between 2010 and 2020, Mr Daly revealed that capital investment in higher education infrastructure in the North-West – on average – amounted to €316 per undergraduate enrolled compared to a national norm of €375, while capital spending on higher education in the North-West was below the State norm in 8 out of the last 11 years.

Within this context, the NWRA’s submission is calling on Budget 2022 to revitalise the North-West’s economy and to address the long-term underinvestment in the region’s infrastructure, by providing a sizeable stimulus package for the North-West of Ireland, adopting a capital investment policy of “Positive Discrimination” towards the North-West and delivering a wide range of investment priorities which will support the implementation of Project Ireland 2040 and the Programme for Government.

David Minton Director of the NWRA said: “Budget 2022 will be key to tackling the economic challenges facing the North-West; challenges which – if unaddressed – could notably exacerbate regional inequalities and undermine the ability of policymakers to deliver balanced regional development. Therefore, our submission is calling for a sizeable regional stimulus package for the North-West of Ireland, to support the recovery of the region’s economy and provide a platform for the region to become more urban, specialised, smart, green, connected and focused on people.”

Mr Minton added: “In total, we have outlined 45 investment priorities that the Assembly would like to see reflected in Budget 2022, with our priorities ranging from delivering the proposed Connacht-Ulster Technological University, creating low-carbon economy training centres, implementing our region’s compact growth targets, improving the region’s digital and transport infrastructure and providing a 100% redress scheme to households affected by Mica, Pyrite and Pyrrhotite


Download The Northern and Western Regional Assembly Pre Budget 2022 Submission