21 May 2009 Edition
Mayors' border counties initiative
SINN FÉIN county mayors/chairs joined forces across the border on Friday morning last to launch their proposals to tackle the current economic crisis with a particular focus on the border region - The Border Counties: Ten Steps to Tackle Recession.
Jointly hosted by the chairpersons/mayors of counties Cavan, Monaghan and Fermanagh, the presentation included a key note address by Sinn Féin North West EU candidate Pádraig Mac Lochlainn. The Cavan/Monaghan TD and Sinn Féin Dáil leader, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, also addressed the event.
Cavan County Council Chair Cllr Charlie Boylan introduced which heard County Monaghan Mayor Cllr Matt Carthy and the Fermanagh District Council Chair Cllr Thomas O’Reilly on specific points in the document.
The common theme to all the contributions was Irish unity, the economic crisis North and South, and the need for imaginative initiatives to sustain existing employment and to create new jobs.
Cllr Pádraig Mac Lochlainn (Buncrana TC and Donegal CC) spelt out the reality faced by businesses in the border region.
“The border region has a legacy of underdevelopment and poor infrastructure because of partition and because of unbalanced regional development policies, North and South.
“The partition boundary meant that the region could not benefit to the full from the Celtic Tiger. Because of the border’s continued existence, the region - and ultimately the island as a whole - is trying to tackle recession while burdened with this major disadvantage.
“Businesses along the border face huge challenges. Retailers on the southern side of the border are struggling as favourable currency exchange rates have led to a flood of shoppers heading north across the border. This has a knock-on effect on producers in the southern border counties. People are losing their jobs in the retail sector and farmers and other producers are seeing their incomes drop.
“It has always been more difficult to do business and create jobs along the border. Towns are cut off from their hinterlands. Businesses must grapple with a second layer of red tape, including different business and employment regulations, if they attempt to operate on both sides of the border. The Irish Government has neither focused on nor delivered job creation for the border counties. Even at the height of the boom this region continued to experience levels of unemployment far above the average.
RECORD OF FAILURE
“The Government has failed to recognise the importance of other sectors which have provided a large proportion of the employment in the border region - in particular in agriculture and in food processing, in furniture production and in tourism.
“The failure to address the issue of country-of-origin labelling for poultry products has put poultry producers in Cavan and Monaghan under pressure. Farming cuts introduced in the 26 Counties since last October have had a devastating effect on farming families along the border and have meant less money in the rural economy and less being spent in the smaller towns and villages. The failure to get the Ulster Canal reopened by now has meant the region is not meeting its tourism potential.
“The current crisis in banking is also hitting businesses along the border hard. Businesses that are solvent and profitable in the long-run but treading water in 2009 are being denied access to larger overdrafts or additional short-term loans that could see them through the ongoing bottoming out process.
“New business ventures are finding closed doors to their start-up plans, and-much needed finance and expert advice to nurture and grow enterprise is not forthcoming.”
Concluding, the North West candidate declared:
“Sinn Féin offers effective leadership to communities on both sides of the border.
“We are working for the integration of social, economic and development policies on both sides of the border. We are campaigning for all-Ireland VAT harmonisation and the harmonisation of business and employment regulations.
“The current crisis offers an opportunity to reshape the island economy and to redress the historic disadvantages and neglect that have characterised the border region. We need to be coming out of this crisis with the infrastructure, skills and public services that will put us at the top of competitiveness rankings and that will deliver improved quality of life for all our citizens.
10 Steps to Tackle Recession
SINN FÉIN in Cavan, Monaghan and Fermanagh is proposing the following ten steps to help the border counties through this recession and beyond.
1 Single island-wide currency (euro) and harmonise VAT rates on an all-Ireland basis. Talks involving the Ministers for Finance in Dublin, Belfast and London should begin immediately to achieve these as soon as possible.
2 Harmonise employment law and business regulation on an all-Ireland basis to commence with a working group involving the ICTU, the Labour Relations Commission and Labour Relations Agency, mandated to agree an inclusive working framework. A parallel process to be initiated regarding business regulation.
Job retention and creation
3 Enterprise Ireland, the IDA and other enterprise support agencies to be given specific job creation targets for the border region and to work towards their delivery in conjunction with Invest NI. The front-loading of essential infrastructure such as badly-needed school buildings in this region would be a crucial element.
Overhaul of Community Employment. Place CE schemes and workers in a deserved light: serving our communities and enhancing our environment.
4 A Jobs Retention Fund to assist Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) struggling to keep their workers, with a portion of this fund ring-fenced to help businesses in the border region, and a state bank that would have support for Irish businesses as one of its principal activities, ensuring that small businesses can access essential credit.
5 Support Irish manufacturers and producers to reach economy of scale, including on an all-Ireland basis, enabling them to compete with cheaper products both abroad and domestically, through investment in new technology and production methods. Support also for Irish manufacturers and producers to access export markets outside the US and Britain.
6 Agriculture and Food. Introduce an improved country-of-origin labelling system particularly for beef, lamb, pigmeat and poultry and address the anomaly in current sell-by date regulations which allows importers to avail of the same sell-by date as domestic producers. Establish All-Ireland Food Promotion Agency to vigorously promote Irish produce in both the domestic and overseas markets.
7 Reverse the agriculture budget cuts introduced since October, including the suspension of the farm installation and early retirement schemes and the cuts to the disadvantaged area scheme, the suckler cow scheme and REPs as well as the abolition of the fallen animal scheme and the 8 per cent cut in the forestry premium.
8 Proceed with the development of the Ulster Canal, with seamless continuation of works through Monaghan and to Lough Neagh following the completion of the Belturbet-Clones link-up. Proceed with development of the N2/A5 Dublin/Monaghan/Derry Road and with development of the long overdue by-passes of Virginia and Belturbet on the N3 Dublin to Enniskillen route.
9 Fast-track the National Broadband Scheme to ensure viable infrastructure for the border region which has been consistently disadvantaged in this regard.
10 Retain existing services and restore those removed from Monaghan General Hospital; provide regional specialty service at Cavan General Hospital; commence construction of promised new hospital at Enniskillen. All three hospitals to forge a close and mutually supportive working relationship guaranteeing the highest levels of cross-border co-operation in the delivery of our essential acute hospital service needs.
CHAIN LINK: (Front row) Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Mayor of Fermanagh Thomas O’Reilly, Chair of Cavan County Council Charlie Boylan, Mayor of County Monaghan Matt Carthy, Sinn Féin EU candidate North West Pádraig Mac Lochlainn; (back row) Chair of Clones Town Council Niall Quigley, Mayor of Castleblayney Mariea Kelly, Mayor of Carrickmacross Rose McMahon, and Mayor of Cootehill Harry McCabe