The rural recovery: Address by Paschal Donohoe TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to the Fine Gael National Conference, February 20th 2015

20th February, 2015

Good evening everyone. It is great to be here with you tonight.


I do not need to tell you the economic mess that we inherited from Fianna Fáil in 2011; a wrecked banking system, rocketing unemployment and public finances in a perilous position.


Now, thanks to the sacrifices of the Irish people, we are in recovery mode. That recovery is fragile though, it is far from complete and, crucially, it is not yet being felt by everyone.


The challenge we face is to ensure that more people feel the benefits of the recovery by finding jobs and having their tax burden eased. Crucial to that work is making sure rural communities throughout our country feel the benefits.


It might seem a little strange for a Minister representing the constituency of Dublin Central to be speaking at a session on the rural recovery. However, I know that the decisions I make in my Department have a real impact on balanced regional development.


You will all be aware of the huge success in recent years of the Wild Atlantic Way and the role it has played in bringing visitors to our country.


It stretches longer than the Garden Route in South Africa and runs all the way through this great county of Mayo.


Our support for the Wild Atlantic Way to the tune of €8 million to date, and with a commitment of a further investment of €2 million, will result in increased visitors to the town and villages peppered all along its two and a half thousand kilometres.


Included in that investment is €3million for route signage and €4.6million for the development of the 159 Discovery Points and 25 embarkation points for the island Discovery Points to ensure that a product offering that is second to none is delivered along the Wild Atlantic Way.


These towns and villages along the route, which are remote from Dublin and often remote from other centres of population, industry or employment will directly feel the benefit of our investment.


It has helped deliver huge success for the tourist industry here.  We have seen visitor numbers to this country grow from just over six million in 2010 to a staggering 7.6 million last year; an increase of over 25 per cent since we took Office and an increase of 9 cent last year alone.


In fact, last year was the best year everfor visitors from North America, Germany, France and Spain.


But it is not just the Wild Atlantic Way. A proposition which is currently in development to encourage tourism in the south and east of the country, which I hope to launch later this year, will see the cultural and heritage tourism assets and experiences of that region being grouped via a network of routes, trails and journeys.


This will result in a new tourism experience that can easily be understood and which attract overseas visitors. Crucially, as with the Wild Atlantic Way, it will result in the benefits of our tourism industry being felt throughout the country – not just in major urban centres.


In the coming weeks I will be publishing our new tourism strategy that will set out ambitious targets and a roadmap to help us meet those targets. It will outline our ambition, not just for increased visitor numbers but for increased spending by visitors and an increase in employment of those working in the sector up and down the country.



This Government’s number one priority is job creation. Following on from the 80,000 jobs created since the Action plan for jobs was introduced, we intend to create 40,000 new jobs in our country this year. Without jobs, we cannot address inequality and unfairness in Irish society.


Tourism can create jobs directly, but the quality of our regional and local roads is also vital for investment and job creation in rural Ireland.  I have already spoken of the devastating impact of Fianna Fáil rule on our public finances: devastation that Fine Gael and our partners, the Labour Party, are seeking to reverse.


We do not have the money, at the moment at least, for all the projects we would like to deliver, and that is unfortunate. But we can, and are, investing what money we have in a targeted and strategic way. Let me clear, it is my Government’s policy to focus on building roads, not blocking them, as is the case with many others.


I was delighted earlier this year to be able to announce a €294million regional and local roads investment programme for 2015, allowing approximately 2,000kms of regional and local road to be maintained and strengthened this year.


Ensuring the upkeep and maintenance of our road network is essential in facilitating our future economic growth and securing jobs in rural Ireland. The only way we can secure the funding to deliver the projects you all need is from the proceeds of an economy that is carefully managed by a responsible Government.


Our priority is to maintain the existing road network, and I have been able to protect funding for the key road maintenance and strengthening programmes for the Local Authorities.


Some examples of important projects around the country include the Lough Atalia Railway Bridge in Galway and the strategic Coonagh to Knockalisheen project in Limerick, as well as 175 bridge rehabilitation schemes and 211 safety projects.


I believe Local Authorities are best placed to assess priorities within their areas and considerable autonomy is therefore given to them under grant headings to decide on the work programme to be carried out in their area.


National investment, spent locally; that is the best approach to take.



That national investment also comes in the form of investment in our public bus and rail networks.


I know how important these services are for rural communities. We cannot allow a situation to develop where people living in smaller towns must solely rely on private cars to get around.


That is why I was able to secure and extra €101 million in extra funding, by way of a supplementary estimate, for our public transport companies late last year.


That is also why I ensured that Public Service Obligation funding for services that may not be commercially viable, but are socially desirable, was maintained at last year’s level this year; the first time we have not seen a reduction in that funding since Fianna Fáil crashed our economy in 2008.


Challenges remain in this area, and those challenges will be met with solutions. But decisions will be taken in the knowledge that rural Ireland must and should be protected as far as possible, so our economy and our society benefit.


As our economy returns to growth, and all the signs are that that growth is gathering momentum, it is the job of this Government, not just to invest public money wisely and give hard working people a break but to ensure that those hardest hit by the recession are not left behind.


I know that rural communities face many challenges. You can rest assured that the investment of my Department in areas like tourism and transport will recognise that.


I am a new member of this Government. But I have already been in the job long enough to know that Fine Gael and Labour are the only combination of parties that can secure the recovery for the future.


We are developing a long-term economic plan to do just that: to eliminate Government borrowing, to sustainably cut taxes and to deliver jobs and create the resources needed to invest in our country, our counties and our communities.


Thank you.