23 August 2001 Edition

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Border region still marginalised

Ó Caoláin addresses the Parnell Summer School

Speaking at the Parnell Summer School at Avondale, County Wicklow, last week, Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that despite the peace process and the `Celtic Tiger', the Border region was still marginalised. He insisted that much more must be done to spread the benefits of economic growth through the regions and across Irish society where poverty persists.

The Cavan/Monaghan deputy spoke in a debate entitled `Economy and Society North and South - The Future' and shared the platform with Assembly member Esmond Birnie of the Ulster Unionist Party and Andy Pollak of the Centre for Cross-Border Studies in Armagh. Helen Shaw of RTÉ chaired the proceedings.

Pointing out that he represents an Ulster constituency in Leinster House, Ó Caoláin said that some would call Cavan/Monaghan a `southern' constituency but parts of it are further north than Armagh City or Enniskillen:

``In the Border counties we have a special perspective on the concepts of `North' and `South'. Since partition, we have found ourselves in an economic no-man's land. The local economy was devastated by the division of the country. This was followed by decades of economic stagnation and decline. The legacy today is a Border region that is still marginalised.

``In Counties Cavan and Monaghan we have higher than average rates of unemployment, very little inward investment, inadequate infrastructure with minimal public transport, insufficient communications networks, low participation in third level education and significant pockets of rural and urban poverty. But we are not unique. There are similar problems in all the Border counties.

``There have been massive improvements in recent years and these are continuing, but we have a very long way to go and we need to get it right. Now that the fruits of the unprecedented economic upturn of the past number of years are available, we must ensure that they are used to best effect. The record of governments in both jurisdictions in this regard has been bad. This is because they have not tackled the deep structural inequalities in our economy and in our society.

``In order to tackle these inequalities and to build our economy on sure foundations, I believe it is essential that we approach these problems on an all-Ireland basis. There is, I believe, widespread acceptance of the logic of an island economy. That was illustrated during the Foot and Mouth crisis, when it was patently obvious that in terms not just of animal health but of agriculture in general, Ireland is an island economy and ought to be developed as such.''

Stressing that it was not enough simply to unite the two economies, Ó Caoláin concluded: ``The island economy towards which we should work is one where everyone has access to a dignified standard of living, where they are employed in meaningful work, where they are housed adequately and educated in line with their needs, where health and other social services are delivered locally and with quality regardless of wealth.''

In the discussion that followed, Ó Caoláin reiterated that Sinn Féin is ``totally wedded to the peace process'', contrary to much recent reporting and speculation. He said that the Sinn Féin leadership had invested greatly in the process and was committed to seeing it through to success.

An Phoblacht
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