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17 July 2008 Edition

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Economic downturn no excuse for Government neglecting the West

KEY: Sinn Féin is opposing the closure of post offices, an important part of community infrastructure

KEY: Sinn Féin is opposing the closure of post offices, an important part of community infrastructure


AS Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Finance Minister Brian Lenihan last week announced the first of what is likely to be a series of public spending cuts, Donegal Senator Pearse Doherty warned that the downturn should not be used as an excuse for the state to once gain turn its back on the West of Ireland.
Along with Kerry TD Martin Ferris, Doherty is leading a Sinn Féin campaign for the regeneration of the West. ‘The West’s Awake’ campaign kicked off in May, launched in West Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon and Donegal by Doherty and Ferris. The initial events received considerable community and media interest in the region.
The campaign seeks to highlight the legacy of neglecting the development needs of the West and will press for the implementation of measures to ensure the economic and social viability of the region in the years ahead.
Over the summer months, starting this week in Kerry and Limerick,  Doherty and Ferris will be travelling the length and breadth of the counties of the West as part of the campaign. Through meeting with a wide range of groups they will be seeking to build a common platform to begin the fightback for the West of Ireland. Doherty will be embarking on a tour of the islands off the West coast towards the end of the summer and is due to visit islands off the Donegal, Galway and West Cork coasts.
The campaign is to be the key focus for party activists in the West over the coming months.
Sinn Féin has laid out its view of what revitalisation and regeneration of the West would mean. What the party is demanding is a strategy from government to bring about a thriving rural economy that includes viable farming and fishing sectors.
For this to happen, investment in economic and social infrastructure in the region must go ahead despite the downturn in public finances. It is clear that if this is not done the region will never be able to reach its full potential.
The party will be campaigning for an end to the closure of key social infrastructure such as post offices and Garda stations and for equitable access for those in the West to public services, including healthcare and education.  The closure of rural post offices has had a devastating effect on many small villages in the West and the transposition of the EU Postal Services Directive next year has the potential to result in further such closures.
Last week, Sinn Féin – in a submission to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources – put forward a set of proposals to minimise the serious negative effects of the directive, particularly in relation to postal services in rural areas. The campaign focuses not only on the future economic viability of the region but also on quality of life issues.  This is why part of the campaign focuses on issues such as access to social, cultural and recreational facilities for all, including those in isolated rural communities.  It will additionally look at bringing forward proposals to ensure that Irish-language communities across the Gaeltacht regions of the West flourish in the years ahead.
As the current downturn in the economy causes commentators to recall the economic hardship of the 1980s, the people of the West of Ireland worst-hit in those times are determined that there will be no return to the emigration and depopulation that devastated the region during those years. Groups such as Irish Rural Link have already raised concerns that some of last week’s cuts will undermine the Government’s stated objectives in relation to balanced regional development.
Sinn Féin, with its campaign to regenerate the West, is currently the leading political voice in ensuring that the needs of the West of Ireland are put at the top of the Government’s agenda.
Speaking in the Seanad on Wednesday, 9 July, during a debate on the economy, Pearse Doherty said:
“The downturn cannot be used as an excuse for the state to once again turn its back on the West of Ireland.
“It is absolutely crucial to the future viability of the region that social and infrastructural projects in the West of Ireland – such as the Derry-Dublin motorway – are progressed with. It this is not the case we will not be in a position to be competitive in the future or to ensure that much needed jobs are created in the region”.
‘The West’s Awake’ campaign is at the centre of the work of Doherty and Martin Ferris in Leinster House. While both have been to the fore in raising issues such as job losses and infrastructure and public service deficiencies in the Dáil and the Seanad, they have separately sought to step up the extent to which the Oireachtas focuses on the needs of the West of Ireland.
Pearse Doherty, who is a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is commencing a report for the committee on “What is required to develop the counties along the West coast of Ireland, both in economic and social terms.”
The report seeks to identify infrastructure and public service deficiencies; the impediments to job creation; the potential sectors for development; and the initiatives and interventions required to revitalise the region.
While Doherty has said he will aim to meet as many organisations and individuals with an interest in the regeneration of the West as possible over the summer period, public input is also being sought in the form of submissions to inform the drafting of this report.   
Martin Ferris is also using his membership of an Oireachtas committee to focus on the needs of the West. Ferris, a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, has got the agreement of his committee to do a report on “What is needed to ensure the future viability of farming and fishing in the West of Ireland.”
This report will look at issues such as farm incomes and off-farm incomes, potential growth sectors in farming and fishing-related activities as well as looking at how to maximise the economic return from farming and fishing.
Martin will be meeting with farming and fishing representatives as well as those involved in specific sectors such as organic farming and aquaculture and those creating employment through entrepreneurship in agri-business.  Ferris is adamant that as the economy experiences a downturn largely brought on by the collapse of an unsustainable construction sector, ensuring a vibrant agri-food sector is key to Ireland’s, and in particular the West’s, future economic prosperity. This week, advertisements are to appear in local papers in the region seeking submissions to the report.
In addition, Ferris hopes to bring together a conference of representatives from the agriculture and fisheries communities later in the year to discuss the proposals he will be bringing forward.



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