From Castlebar - County Mayo -

Local Papers Commentary
The Mayo News 8 October 2003
By The Jaundiced Eye
12, Oct 2003 - 10:31

True picture of western underspend is indefensible

WEST on Track has slammed shocking new statistics which highlight the way in which the BMW region, and the West in particular, has been short-changed in the implementation of the National Development Plan. The evaluation by independent international consultants, INDECON, into spending in the West of Ireland and the BMW region makes dismal reading. The confidential mid-term evaluation, which has gone to the government, shows that in some areas less than half of the money provided was actually spent. In the year 2002 only 48.7% of the forecast road funding was actually spent in the BMW region. In the South and East region the spend was 146% of the forecast figures for public transport investment paint an even worse picture. Investment under this heading, which was mainly on railways, shows that for the years 2000-2002, spending in the BMW region was 51% of what was forecast in the National Development Plan, whilst in the South and East Region it was 174% of forecast. This represents a shortfall of o364m in the BMW region. This means that at the same time as the largest piece of rail infrastructure in this region, the Western Rail Corridor, lies dormant, a sum vastly in excess of what would re-open it in its entirety remains unspent at the behest of faceless planners in Dublin. Worse still, the Indecon report clearly indicates that the funds earmarked for this region under the NDP, which would re-vitalize more than 20 towns and cities in the West, are deliberately being spent in other areas of the country.

The money was there but it wasn’t spent on the West? You might think that it confirms all our conspiratorial views about Dublin – the "To Hell or to Connaught" brigade? But – and it’s a big BUT - I wonder did we actually request that the money be drawn down? Were plans for road, rail and other projects that meet the terms of the BMW programme submitted? I mean properly costed, realistic and well-researched plans to spend the money – were such plans actually submitted for funding up to the levels supposedly available? Was it just that other areas submitted plans on time, properly pulled together and by default got the money?

Building the next generation economy the knowledge-based economy requires research, centres of excellence, built on a good infra-structure. But our politicians are arguing over the need for more ribbon development – the one-off rural house debate – or sending motions up to Dublin somewhere about ‘offensive’ comedy programmes on RTE TV or motions to have An Taisce removed from the Planning Acts. We in Mayo – you and I - have elected a majority of councillors who are auctioneers, big land-owners and developers all of whom have a strong vested interest in rezoning. So these guys and gals have spent days poring over the county development plan in order to remove the word ‘sustainability’ wherever it occurs. This is will not deliver the knowledge economy or improved tourism infrastructure to the West. In fact I can hardly think of a better way to kill tourism stone dead. Tourists just laugh at our stupidity when they see Spanish style haciendas dominating the scenery that they paid good money to travel to the West to see - and we can’t really blame them if they don’t come back. Tourism is our biggest industry here in the West and our elected politicians are killing it to shore up dead-duck subsidy-driven farms.

We need broadband, good roads into the West, a good rail service up and down the western seaboard and to Dublin. The job of building up our research and education centres in order to attract the centres of excellence that will underpin the new generation knowledge economy will take at least 10 years. A start has been made with GMIT – the heritage studies, nursing and computer training – the National Museum is another great plus. But we need more in order to encourage large R&D and knowledge centres as opposed to assembly jobs like those in Volex that will quickly move to Eastern Europe or China where annual wages are less than 1000 euro. Infrastructure of the physical and intellectual kind is essential if the West is not to be left in the doldrums.

We also need to develop our tourism into a much more sophisticated product. Like the assembly jobs CAP reform and decoupling means that Mayo can change the outmoded subsidy-driven and environmentally destructive farming and turn to new more knowledge-based sustainable models of earning a living from the land – organic farms, specialist breeds, tourism farming mixes. But if we do not stop the damage that farming is doing to our environment we can forget tourism too. Small lakes are going green. Arctic char have gone extinct in Lough Conn due to farm phosphorus runoff. Slurry smells waft through the centre of Castlebar. Tourists search in vain for a sprig of purple heather in autumn – but the sheep got it all long ago and it’s not coming back. They look at brown bare hillsides covered in sheep droppings and wonder.

Now that the Corrib gas is delayed is there an emergency plan to replace the broadband cable that was supposed to run alongside the pipeline in order to deliver broadband to Castlebar? Where is our local Internet Point of Presence so that we can have real broadband and permit us to host our Internet servers locally at a sensible cost? Where are the plans to provide broadband for the ribbon developments and one-off houses already built that are more than 3km from exchanges?

What discussions have been held with prospective incoming knowledge-based industries? How many one-to-one meetings have Mayo County Councillors had with BMW officials and Dept of Finance officials regarding the spending of the BMW funds? How much pressure was put on the BMW fund staff by submitting tight, well-researched and too the point proposals? I would like to see a list of the plans that were submitted for BMW funding and actually turned down. Or were the people who should be submitting such plans too busy with the black marker deleting the words ‘sustainable development’ from the County Development Plan?


Castlebar Council gives boot to 298-bed student complex

IT looked a tough decision for the members of Castlebar Town Council but amidst the sounds of protest drums from the students of GMIT in Castlebar, the seven members present stood and vetoed a 15 million euro student accommodation development for Castlebar. The councillors made it clear that it was not the proposal they had a problem with, it was the location. It was felt that the 298-bed student complex would impinge on a residential area of some tradition in Castlebar. Back in July, it looked bleak for the residents of Saleen and the Ballinrobe Road area as the councillors openly told them, "there is nothing we can do to stop this development." But it came full circle on Monday night when all seven councillors present voted unanimously not to grant a material contravention allowing the development to take place. The plan had been given the green light by Council management. Bizzarely, none of the parties involved had known until August that the Castlebar Town Development Plan, in existence for ten years, had this valuable piece of development land zoned as agricultural. Praise was forthcoming in some quarters for the good intentions of the developer whose plans would copper-fasten Castlebar as a town with real student potential but all seven felt the site just was not suitable.

Now I know what the students were doing outside Marsh house – the first real live student protest I have seen in Castlebar!

Mayo defend the realm - TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Senior Football Championship Final - Mayo News 1-4 Dublin 0-5

OFT unheralded the art of defence took centre stage at Croke Park on Sunday when miserly Mayo secured their fourth title inside five years, disclosing a new facet to their weaponry in the process. Aligned tactically to restrict a strong, physical Dublin battalion from midfield back, Finbarr Egan’s girls took defending to new heights before belatedly focusing on the need for attack and a score to save the hour. Mayo trailed by a point going into the final three minutes following a desolate and barren second half showing, but the opportunism and natural scoring ability of 27-year-old Diane O’Hora turned the blue tide dramatically. To the defence, where Mayo held the Dubs scoreless for fully 44 minutes after Mary Nevin had driven over four minutes in, capitalising on a slip on the treacherous surface by full-back Helena Lohan. A goal offered itself for the corner-forward but she steadied herself and slotted a point to match the earlier effort of Karen Hopkins and open a 0-2 to 0-0 lead. They would not disturb the scoreboard again until 18 minutes into the second half, at which point they trailed by 0-4 to 0-2. Mayo lined three across midfield with Christina Heffernan taking up a midfield post for the throw-in and Jackie Moran superbly manning the left flank. Hard-working Claire Egan picked up dangerwoman Angie McNally and after the Dublin midfielder’s instantaneous sortie into Mayo territory, which really should have yielded the opening score inside 20 seconds, the Louisburgh woman fairly restricted the influence of Dublin’s 35-year-old taliswoman.

Not a great football display due to the wet and slippy conditions but what a glorious late goal pulling Mayo out of the fire. Particularly poignant the McGing sisters still mourning their late sister Aisling killed in a car crash in July. Wonderful photos from Michael Donnelly. Bertie Ahern didn’t look too happy there on the platform as the cup was handed to Mayo but I guess he’s a Dub!


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