Project Ireland 2040 for Sligo- what does it mean?

Mary Michell O'Connor, Minister of State at the Department of Education with special responsibility for Higher Education, Tony McLoughlin TD, Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Leo Varadkar is presented with an Annie West caricature of the cabinet by IT Sligo President Brendan McCormack and Una Parsons head of engineering school at IT Sligo, at the Cabinet meeting and launch of Project Ireland 2040 at IT Sligo. Photo: James Connolly 16FEB18

THE cabinet met in Sligo this Friday to discuss and launch the government’s ‘Project Ireland 2040 initiative.

Although the launch was held in IT Sligo and Sligo has been recognised as a regional centre under the plan, was there any benefit?

Well on paper at least, there have been promises to role out the figure of €116 billion on the development of the country up to 2040.

The reason behind the government’s plan was not solely with a view to development, but also in terms of dealing with the population growth that Ireland will experience in those years.

In a Sligo context, the population surge for the north and west over the course of the next 20 plus years for this region is projected in the government’s plan as being approximately 160,000 to 180,000 more than at present.

This may seem like a significant jump but in the context of the midland and east- which sees growth of 490,000 to half a million- and the south- 340,000 to 380,000 the bulk of the populace increase will still mainly be south of the Shannon.

Commitments were made and much emphasis was put on the fact that the government want to prevent “uncontrolled gravitation”, this is the pull towards large urban areas such as Dublin.

It is through the city and regional centre initiative that the government hopes to make counties like Sligo attractive to development and workers.

Sligo is a regional centre, which according to the document is “targeting a level of growth in the country’s northern and western and southern regions combined, to at least match that projected in the eastern and midland region.”

Under the heading of ‘effective regional development’, Sligo is described as “serving a large hinterland that extends beyond County Sligo into surrounding counties to include parts of Donegal, Leitrim, Mayo and Roscommon, supported by nearby county towns.”

“Sligo’s significance as a centre of employment and services is much greater than its scale in terms of population.”

The document states that due to Sligo’s pharmaceutical industry, engineering capabilities and higher eduction institutions, such as IT Sligo and St Angela’s, indicates the county’s “latent capacity to enhance its regional role.”

Roads have been a major bone of contention for Sligo. The Western Distributor Road, the N4 and class three roads are all familiar debating points in Sligo County Council’s chambers.

The government have pledged to tackle this. In the immediate future works on the N4 and the Western Distributor Road are both set to get off the ground later this year.

Both projects fall under the government’s €7.3 billion allocation for the roads network nationwide.

Also, the development of the ‘Wild Atlantic Way Corridor’ from both a tourism point of view and also from the point of view of economic growth is also mentioned in the plan.

Class three roads more worryingly, which in Sligo have seen their funding cut year on year, do not fall under this funding.

The government have however, pointed to the restorations and resurfacing funding which have both gone up 18% and 17% respectively, as possible ways of addressing the ongoing problems with class three roads in Sligo and nationwide.

In terms of Brexit, the government have said that this plan is “Brexit proofed.”

Under this “proofing” process, it is foreseen that border counties and regional centres such as Sligo will be paramount.

Across three platforms, the government are seeking to work with Northern Ireland and these include- economic advantage, infrastructure and managing the “share environment.”

For making the passage north easier, the Castlebaldwin to Collooney road comes under the heading of ‘Investing in the Border Region.’

To underpin this, there was an emphasis on development of ports. While Sligo port was not mentioned, Ireland West Airport Knock will have a dedicated programme.

To conclude, the government have said that the plan is “ambitious” while the opposition parties have called it “rushed” and criticised the lack of consultation.

Time will tell and we only have to wait until 2040 to find out who is right.

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