Councillors question IDA over plans for Offaly
Scepticism, not getting a 'fair crack of the whip' and benefiting poorly were just some of the sentiments expressed by frustrated county councillors after a recent presentation by the IDA.
Anna Marie Delaney, Chief Executive of Offaly County Council, welcomed the IDA to the April meeting of Offaly County Council where she outlined how the local authority was working with the IDA on a number of initiatives, some of which were “going to take time” but in the meantime, the council was looking forward to working with the IDA in further developing their 2021 – 2024 strategy, which was launched last January.
During what could be described as a wide-ranging, detailed and comprehensive presentation from the IDA, their officials outlined details of their new strategy, which hopes to drive recovery and sustainable growth from 2021 to 2024, along with details of IDA activity and initiatives in the midlands region over the last 12 months, how the IDA did their work while providing a “snapshot of the work and projects” the IDA was doing in the region.
Later, the IDA official, Ken Whitelaw, Regional Manager, Midlands (Laois, Longford, Offaly and Westmeath) stressed: “Nobody at this meeting should be in doubt about our focus on promoting regional Ireland to FDI. That's everything that we do in and day out. In terms of motivations, I would be disappointed if people didn't think we didn't have the regions as a priority within our organisation.”
Cllr John Carroll, an Cathaoirleach of Offaly County Council, noted the type of jobs that have been lost in south and west Offaly in Bord na Mona and the ESB. “We do realise that the last 12 months have been the most changing and we thought it was going to be Brexit but nobody envisaged that it would be Covid-19 that would be dominating now,” he remarked.
Cllr Tony McCormack was next to take the screen by pointing out he had worked with the IDA previously in various roles including the Tullamore Chamber of Commerce.
“This time, I intend to keep Offaly and Tullamore on the agenda and intend to be a thorn in their side and will keep them in the headlines until they give us a fair crack of the whip,” he said adding that more needed to be done to ensure Tullamore was included on overnight stays for IDA's itineraries.
Cllr Neil Feighery also voiced concerns that Offaly and Tullamore didn't seem to be getting a “fair crack of the whip” in terms of the levels of investment that was coming into the region. He then asked questions about how many of the forecast 25 IDA investments for the midlands region would be in Tullamore and whether those targets for the IDA's previous strategy were achieved for the region?
Cllr Ken Smollen noted how Offaly had “benefited very poorly in comparison to other midland counties with regard to the IDA”. “It's imperative that county Offaly be prioritised by the IDA. We need jobs here. County Offaly is the second poorest county in Ireland. We need these jobs and we need the IDA to focus on Offaly,” he continued.
Cllr Eamon Dooley asked whether the IDA had made recommendations as part of the process to roll out the European Just Transition fund and had a chance to “influence the outcome of this”.
Cllr Noel Cribbin took the opportunity to ask about the Bord na Mona land banks and the opportunities that might present there while Cllr John Leahy pointed out that Offaly doesn't fare as well when you look at Athlone.Cllr John Clendennen mentioned how Offaly had a “strong commercial” background, a strong business community and entrepreneurship before highlighting the need to look at the potential options for the now-defunct Shannonbridge power station. “I would like an indication of what you have done to prevent the demolition of Shannonbridge power station and what we can do working collectively to ensure that it has a feasible offering into the future,” he continued.
While Cllr John Foley mentioned the old Rhode Power station. “We need to bring the IDA in and talk to them,” he remarked.
Replying to the councillors' concern, Dennis Curran, Head of Regional Development, Corporate Governance and Engineering and Industrial technologies said the criteria for site visits was set by the visiting companies and not the IDA while later, replying to Cllr John Clendennen's remarks about Shannonbridge by saying that they didn't have ownership of this assets, and therefore he couldn't speak directly about plans for it.
Mentioning the 'green energy' plans for some parts of Offaly, Mr Curran said that they were cognisance of the Rhode Green Energy Park and the green energy plans for Offaly. “Sustainability is going to be core and central of many conversations that I will have with clients and it will also be part of the conversations with potential clients and could also be how we position Offaly,” he continued.
Anne Marie Tierney-Le Roux, Department Manager and Regional Business Development also added some comments to the discussion by acknowledging the comments and concerns of the councillors.
“We wanted to be here with you today to provide assurances of our commitment to Offaly as a location for Foreign Direct Investment,” she began.“Some areas that we see ahead that give us some hope and where we would see collaboration with the LA in Offaly. First, E-site visits. There was a question earlier about what we learn on the back of our site visits. In the covid-19 context, we have an opportunity here to position Offaly virtually through our E-site visit model. There are no borders now and our colleagues are presenting the county as an investment location. The challenges we would have had before, we can move across this now and we look forward to supporting the E- site visits platform for Offaly in 2021 and beyond.”
On behalf of Offaly County Council, Ms Deleny noted that Offaly does “tick a lot of the boxes” with regards to providing for companies and Offaly was “open for business” while the council would continue to support businesses that wanted to locate in the county.
Cllr Carroll added the presentation provided an opportunity to outline the councillors' frustrations ón the ground. “While some of the questions were answered today, some weren't,” he remarked.“We are a county open for business and you will have the full cooperation of the local authority and the elected members,” he concluded.
Wrapping the presentation up, Mr Curran noted the cooperation that the IDA get from Offaly County Council. “We will continue to pursue those areas of opportunities and market Offaly and the wider region. Given the focus on green agenda and green economy and given the position, Offaly is in and I would be reasonably optimistic that Offaly will be to the fore of opportunities that might present themselves here over the next four years,” he pointed out.
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