Op-ed on Annual Report of Project Ireland 2040

2nd May, 2019

In the aftermath of the 2008 economic collapse, Ireland’s public infrastructure spending was severely curtailed with capital investment lowered to 2.5 per cent of GDP. This resulted in our infrastructure being out of step with Ireland’s rapid growth, potentially undermining our economic competitiveness and future outlook. It was necessary to invest in and seek to deliver a better future for all our citizens.


That is why, last year in Sligo, the Taoiseach, my colleagues and I unveiled Project Ireland 2040. The plan was a sea-change in how we invest in public infrastructure in Ireland, moving away from the approach of the past which saw public investment spread too thinly and investment decisions which didn’t align with a clearly thought out and defined strategy. The plan was designed to take the entire country forward, strengthening rural economies and communities with our regional cities and growth towns bolstered by specific policy supports ensuring balanced development.


The publication today of the first Annual Report of Project Ireland 2040 shows that our plan is working.


High impact projects in every county are benefitting from the €1 billion Rural Regeneration and Development Fund. This strategic investment is transforming communities by delivering projects in sectors such as tourism, town and village regeneration, agri-food and recreation. Projects such as the Great Southern Greenway in Limerick, Hook Head Lighthouse in Wexford, National Centre of Excellence for Surfing in Sligo and the Ocean Innovation Centre Ireland in Killybegs are utilising their respective location’s natural advantages, building resilience in rural communities and making our towns and villages vibrant places for families to live.  


2018 was a very impressive year for jobs growth, with IDA client companies recording employment growth of 7% in 2018 and employment in multinationals reaching its highest ever level of 229,057. In fact, every region in Ireland is showing net gains in jobs.  58% –the highest ever level – of employment in IDA client companies is now outside Dublin and over 60% of Enterprise Ireland new job creations are outside Dublin. The Stability Programme Update showed that employment growth is forecast at 2% this year and 2.1% in 2020 which will lower the unemployment rate to 5.4% at the end of 2019 and 5% at the end of 2020.


We are delivering housing that is properly planned, in areas with adequate transport links and amenities. In 2018, house completions were up 25% on 2017.


Travelling to, from and around Ireland is improving and becoming more sustainable. Sustainable public transport trips grew by 13% in our key growth centres; Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. Planning for the Metrolink is underway, which will link Dublin Airport, Irish Rail, DART, Dublin Bus and Luas services, creating fully integrated public transport in the Greater Dublin Area and carrying up to 50 million passengers annually. The sod was turned on the new runway in Dublin Airport in early 2019 and the runway will be operational by 2021.   Investment in the Regional Airports Programme is also set to grow in 2019.  In 2018, almost €3.7m was invested in capital projects at the regional airports of Donegal, Kerry and Ireland West Airport Knock.  Roadways such as the N4 Castlebaldwin to Colooney and the N70 Kilderry Bends will shortly open soon and these roads and others will be carrying more electric cars than ever, with the number of electric vehicles on Irish roads doubling last year. More broadly, we are taking action now to decarbonise Ireland creating sustainable green jobs, sustainable food production, deepening our energy security, improving the quality of our lives and making our working and built environments healthier.


It is key that our energy network is updated and transformed to deliver on the promise of transitioning to a low-carbon and climate-resilient society. Eirgrid has been working with its French counterpart on the development of the Celtic Interconnector Project, a proposed electrical link between the two countries. Following the UK’s exit from the EU, this would be Ireland’s sole direct energy connection to an EU Member State, ensuring energy security for the country. Other forms of energy generation are also important and the Oweninny Power Wind Farm in Mayo, a joint project between ESB and Bord na Móna, will provide renewable electricity for homes and businesses in Ireland.


Sport and culture are fundamental to our cities, towns, villages and rural areas. 47 arts centres, theatres, galleries, museums and creative spaces were completed in 2018. In 2019, 170 projects throughout Ireland will be funded by the Sports Capital Programme.


Access to a range of quality education and health services is a defining characteristic of attractive, successful and competitive places. Total public investment in health will grow by 24% in 2019. Over 127 Primary Care Centres are now open, a further 37 are underway, with 11 to open in 2019.


Projects are now underway to deliver 40,000 additional and replacement school places, replace over 600 prefabs and provide over 200 modern science labs readying for our economy’s future skill needs. School sports facilities will be enhanced through the construction and modernisation of 48 PE Halls at post-primary level and 82 General Purpose rooms at primary level during the same period.


There certainly have been failings. The overruns in the National Children’s Hospital are unacceptable by anyone’s standards. This Government is committed to guarding against this type of issue happening again and we are working on implementing a suite of reforms to help avoid major cost overrun on key national priority projects. These include how we treat risk and uncertainty in project planning, how we approach the procurement process, how we evaluate major projects and how we ensure that we have the right blend of skills and experience in the public and private sectors in order to deliver the full ambition of Project Ireland 2040. 


External risks also remain, not least of which is the nature and timing of the UK’s exit from the European Union. It is absolutely vital that we continue to build up our fiscal defences so that we can continue to support the economy and provide for society, if and when, these risks materialise.


In the first year of Project Ireland 2040, investment has grown significantly and critical economic, social and cultural infrastructure is being delivered across the country. Project Ireland 2040 is enhancing regional connectivity and competitiveness, improving environmental sustainability and building a fairer, more equal Ireland for everyone. We need to maintain and build on the momentum already achieved, and be flexible and innovative to ensure delivery for all our people, now and in the future.