Mountmellick, Wednesday 6th February, 2019
Speech - Minister Heather Humphreys
Minister Flanagan, Minister Bruton,
Ladies and Gentlemen, Good morning,
I am delighted to be here in Mountmellick this morning to launch the Regional Enterprise Plan to 2020 for the Midlands.
I was really looking forward to visiting this wonderful facility because Charlie has been telling me about it for some time; and he was right - it really is a proud example of what a local community can achieve by working together.
So, before I start, I want to commend Paddy Buggy (Manager), Paul Dempsey (Chairperson) and the Mountmellick Development Association for their ambition for this town and its future.
Before Christmas, I was delighted to announce that the Development Association, together with their partners, were successful in their application for nearly €220,000 from my Department’s Regional Enterprise Development Fund.
The funding will be used to develop the Beale Centre for Business Excellence here in this complex, which will be a wonderful addition to your facilities here.
I know that you will work hard to make it a success, and that others will be inspired to follow your example – huge congratulations.
There is no doubt that Ireland has made great progress economically over the last few years.
Since the Government first launched Regional Action Plans for Jobs in early 2015, 260,000 more people are working right across the country.
163,500 of those new jobs are outside Dublin and unemployment has fallen in every region over the period.
Starting in 2015, the Government set a target that every region should achieve a 10 to 15 percent increase in employment by 2020.
We also want to see unemployment in each region reduce to within one percentage point of the national average, and great progress has been made in all regions.
Here in the Midlands, employment has grown by almost 18 percent since the start of 2015 - that’s over 19,000 more people in employment.
In addition, the unemployment rate has dropped from almost 15 percent in 2015 to just over 7 percent in the Midlands.
Clearly a lot has been achieved by the businesses and entrepreneurs in this region, but I am under no illusions that we need to do more, especially given the uncertain international times we find ourselves in.
I want to see unemployment fall more in line with the State average.
I also want to ensure that we are focusing on the creation of quality jobs that are sustainable in the longer term, in line with the Government’s new Future Jobs initiative, which I will launch in the coming weeks.
It is clear that there are new challenges emerging in the external environment, not least Brexit.
Here in the Midlands, the regional economy faces a significant adjustment with the transition to a low carbon economy.
The planned redundancies at Bord na Mona will affect many families.
I recently met with a number of stakeholders on the situation with Minister Flanagan and Minister Bruton, and I want to once again assure you that all the relevant State supports will be made available to the workers affected.
I would like to commend the work of the Regional Transition Team, who are working hard to lessen the impact, support those affected, and see where new job opportunities can be created.
Today I am launching the Midlands Regional Enterprise Plan to 2020, the first of 9 Plans that my Department has spearheaded with regional stakeholders all over the country.
These Plans have never been more important than they are now with Brexit just around the corner.
A lot can be achieved when a group of people with similar interests gets together to work towards the same goals, especially in the face of adversity.
That’s why collaboration is front and centre in the Plans, and it’s why they take a bottom-up approach.
In the words of Steve Jobs:
“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”
The Midlands Plan sees counties Laois, Longford, Offaly and Westmeath coming together behind 7 key Strategic Objectives, which will support the growth of enterprise and job creation in this region.
If ever there was a time to pull together and work together, it’s now, and I’m confident that ‘the will’ is there to make this Plan work, building on the huge progress already made.
You will hear more about the content later, but I am pleased to see a focus on:
• The transition to a low carbon economy
• Building on the region’s strength in manufacturing
• Embracing new areas of opportunity – in Big Data
• Realising the potential in the region’s food sector and
• A strong focus on ‘place making’ and ‘skills development’.
I would like to commend the Midlands Regional Committee, and in particular the Chair, Dr. Anne Cusack of Critical Healthcare, for all their work in refining the priorities for the next two years.
I also want to acknowledge the programme management support of Sarah Morgan, who has worked very hard to make collaboration real and meaningful in the Midlands through this Plan.
In addition, I would like to pay tribute to the former Chair, Pat Gallagher, Chief Executive of Westmeath Co. Council, and to thank him for all his work since 2015.
The Government has put several funding streams in place to support regional development, and the Midlands has seen many successes through these initiatives.
They include the Regional Enterprise Development Fund, which I mentioned earlier; the Rural and Urban Funds announced by the Government in Project Ireland 2040; and the Town and Village Renewal Scheme, to name just a few.
Given the wide range of stakeholders on the Regional Committee – not to mention the strong work ethic in this region - I see huge potential for the Midlands to build on this success as part of its new Regional Enterprise Plan.
To paraphrase an old proverb: good things come to those who hustle!
And with that, it gives me great pleasure to officially launch the Regional Enterprise Plan for the Midlands.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh.