RECENTLY, this paper has been highlighting something very close to my heart; the plight and opportunities that exist in West Clare. Being the son of eight families from “back West”, it’s still the place that I regard as home. This even though I find myself living in Dublin.
There are thousands of young Clare people living across the globe now. Like all generations before us, Clare has seen an exodus of young faces, some never to return. Many more of this generation’s talented youth, having picked up their leaving cert results this week, will get ready to study in third levels around the country. 15 years ago, I did the same thing. Since then, I’ve spent just three years in Clare. The fact of the matter is, there isn’t the industry to sustain our population of roughly 110,000 and this is down to a successive political failure of multiple Governments and opposition parties. It’s unimaginable that while the country is in another boom, we’re still talking about job losses in Clare, most recently our colleagues in The Clare People. A sure sign that something is not right.
No one is innocent of the lack of foresight to see real vibrant ideas for our county. Nor is everyone guilty of not caring. Far from it! Down through the years we’ve seen ingenuity and investment from many Government agencies and departments at the behest of many different politicians of all parties. Among these are Ardnacrusha, Moneypoint, Shannon Airport, Glór, the Cliffs of Moher visitor centre, and many more. Unfortunately, however, these ideas and investments are ageing like the Clare population itself.
The county really is crying out for new investment, new ideas and ways to keep our young people at home in Clare. Moneypoint’s days are numbered and with that, the biggest employer in West Clare. Shannon Airport is in serious trouble also. However, despite many people in political and civic society saying more should be done, there are precious few ideas emerging as to what that should be. It really is time to be bold and to try being world leaders once more here in Clare. After all, it was Sixmilebridge native Brendan O’Regan who gave birth to the idea of Duty-Free shopping and put Shannon on the international aviation map.
Moneypoint and Ardnacrusha demonstrated the scale of ambition of previous Governments who weren’t afraid to make big regional investments for the good of all the people of Ireland. Sadly, that ambition hasn’t been seen in over a generation at this stage. There is no major infrastructural project, outside of road construction, taking place outside Dublin presently.
Such is the lack of recent experience in the state building such projects that we’ve seen the National Children’s Hospital fiasco occur. The huge overspend is directly the result of a very poor public tendering process. Working in this field myself, it galls to hear how badly it is being done by the state centrally when other state agencies are so good at getting taxpayer value for money on large infrastructure projects. Yet here we are hurtling towards the end of the decade and not one major state project has been green lit across the Banner county. Sure, we’ve had school investment, and I’m all for investing in education, along with badly needed flood relief works, but there’s not a thing being done to invest into the commercial well-being of the county. The economic scales of the state continue to tip towards Dublin and what’s more, no one in power knows what to do about it.
We’re lucky in Clare to have beautiful scenery, good farming land, rich heritage and history and an international reputation for great food and even greater welcome. Nevertheless, there’s only so many people who can be employed in agriculture and tourism. Likewise, in a vibrant economy, only a certain percentage can be employed by the state in providing state services as well as retail for the remainder of the population. We need industry to fill the gap. In the 21st century, industry is taking on a different look to that it did even at the turn of the century. We badly need modern telecoms infrastructure to allow us to compete on a global scale. We need a vibrant international airport for us to export goods manufactured here. We need an economic plan that allows us to compete internationally on a cost basis whilst protecting wage security here. We need employment laws that give people security to build a life in Clare. We need a provision of state supported services through the rural landscape to allow communities to thrive. Above all, we need politicians to leave the party-political banners down and band together to form regional caucuses to demand these things from Government.
As the country becomes even more Dublin focused, the political system we have allowed become more centralised has seen our ability to push back taken away. We’ve no one to blame for this but ourselves. We all cheered when they said they were going to slash the number of politicians and overhaul local Government. The reality of those changes is that power is now focused on the 15 members of cabinet and unless cross-party regional groups start to fight for the area, the county is going to continue to suffer. If something doesn’t change, there soon won’t be much hope left for the place I still call home these 15 years after I first left it. The West’s awake, for now. Let’s not get caught napping and collectively demand urgent investment.