- Taoiseach urged to address regional imbalances during special meeting
- NWRA urges government to prioritise delivery of key infrastructure projects
- Urgent projects include road and rail expansion and third-level education facilities
The Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) has held a special meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and outlined a priority list of major projects which it says are urgently needed to address some of the region’s key development challenges.
In a wide-ranging presentation, Mr Varadkar listened intently to representatives of the NWRA as they outlined that the region’s infrastructure deficits are seriously undermining the development of the Northern and Western Region’s economy – and they called for greater investment in the motorway, higher education and rail networks of Ireland’s most rural oriented region.
The Northern and Western Region of Ireland is officially classified as a ‘Transition Region’ by the European Commission. The title is given to regions in which the GDP per capita is between 75% and 100% of the EU27 average. The Northern and Western Region is the only region in Ireland to hold such a status with development challenges ranging from lower productivity and educational attainment and a weaker skills base and business environment.
At the meeting held in the Four Seasons Hotel in Monaghan, the Taoiseach was told that disposable income per head of population in the Northern and Western Region of Ireland is just 84% of the State average – which is much lower compared to previous years – and that the region’s share of Ireland’s population has been in decline since 2011.
The NWRA, represented by a delegation of County Councillors from the Assembly and Director Denis Kelly, set out a series of specific priorities which it wants the Taoiseach to advance. These included:
- Addressing regional imbalances by providing more than half of funding under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to the Northern and Western Region for the next EU funding period (2028-2035)
- Prioritising the delivery of a series of key infrastructure projects, including ATU Infrastructure, roads and rail infrastructure within and linking urban centres of scale.
- Enhancing governance mechanisms around the delivery of the Galway Metropolitan Area Strategic Plan (MASP) and the strategic plans of Letterkenny, Sligo town and Athlone, ensuring some level of regional autonomy is provided to the regions.
- Removing the match-funding requirements for projects under the Urban Regeneration Development Fund and the Rural Regeneration Development Fund in the Northern and Western Region, which local authorities say is restricting funding applications for these schemes and undermining efforts to support regional development.
Speaking after the meeting with the NWRA, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “My thanks to The Northern and Western Regional Assembly for outlining the progress they have made in creating stronger, safer communities in the Northern and Western Region.
“Balanced regional development is good for the whole country and this region is more competitive in creating jobs, access to broadband and access to third level education. Many important infrastructure projects have been built in the region in recent years, many more are advancing, and I was pleased to voice my strong support for the Galway Ring Road project.
“It is a challenge for any country to spread development away from the capital and other big cities, but it is something we are committed to, which is why I set up the Department of Rural and Community Development in 2017 with a fund of €1 billion to invest in rural areas. The positive benefits are there for everyone to see in towns and villages all over Ireland.”
Speaking after the meeting with Mr Varadkar, NWRA Director Denis Kelly said:
“Urgent action is needed to address the Northern and Western Region’s many development challenges. In recent years, residents of our region have seen their level of disposable income fall to around 84% of the national average, which is much lower compared to the mid to late 2000s when the gap ranged from 92% to 94%. The region is ranked the 114thmost competitive regional economy in the 234 regions in the EU’s Regional Competitiveness Index and ranks 218th in terms of infrastructure.
“In agreeing to meet the NWRA representatives in Monaghan, the Taoiseach was able to hear the economic progress which has been made in the region but also hear first-hand about the various issues inhibiting economic growth in our region and our many proposals for kick-starting development in the Northern and Western Region of Ireland.
“In our presentation we identified a series of proposed infrastructure projects from across our region which we feel should be prioritised as a matter of urgency, and suggested reforms in terms of the allocation of European funds. The implementation of these measures would provide the platform for sustainable growth. We are very grateful to the Taoiseach for his time and attention and look forward to working together to provide better services and greater economic growth for the people of our region.”
Councillor John Naughten, Cathaoirleach of the NWRA, said: “There is an urgent need to reverse the economic decline in our region. As the Taoiseach has heard first-hand from our members, the underinvestment in critical enabling infrastructure has hampered development in our Northern and Western counties. It’s time for an economic stimulus to give our young people hope for a better future, in this region.”
The Key Infrastructure projects identified includes the ATU Galway STEM Building, the ATU Letterkenny Library, IT and Education Building, the N2, and N17, N3 Virginia Bypass, Donegal Ten-T projects, Galway Ring Road, Galway Port, the Galway-Sligo rail line, and double tracking of the rail line between Galway and Athlone rail line. In addition the provision of wastewater infrastructure for small towns/villages was raised.