The first-of-its-kind South East First Citizens Accord has created a Forum of the First Citizens from Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford who are coming together with the key goal of addressing the structural challenges faced by the South East.
The region is particularly vulnerable to the impact of the pandemic having had the highest regional unemployment rate coming into the crisis.
The Accord agrees on immediate common priorities for the region as a whole that can aid economic recovery coming out of the Covid-19 crisis and can address the historical imbalance in State funding and engagement with the South East.
The First Citizens met with the regional TDs and Senators, where the priorities were presented and the need for each outlined. There was strong support among the Oireachtas members to align behind these critical issues, many of which they are currently and actively engaged on. The seven priorities are:
1. Technological University of South East – €250 million investment by 2025: The new TUSEI will require funding that matches the scale of the ambition of the project, similar to the State support given to the €500m development of TU Dublin.
2. A €30m region-specific South East Innovation Fund: There is a need for specific funding for the South East to support strategic projects that can drive job creation (similar to the €28m Border Fund and the €44m Midlands Just Transition Fund).
3. Investment in South East Ports & more strategic collaboration between them: Government support is required to develop the South East ports (Rosslare and Belview, Waterford) as strategic national solutions to Brexit, to take advantage of their huge potential as offshore wind hubs and to act as drivers of the region’s economy.
4. 40 new IDA companies in South East and new IDA property in each county by 2024: The South East has amongst the lowest levels of IDA jobs in Ireland. More ambitious IDA engagement in the South East is required to make up the shortfall.
5. A specific Enterprise Ireland Regional Director for South East: The South East is one of the only regions in Ireland without a specific Enterprise Ireland Regional Director. Our SMEs are vulnerable to Brexit and Covid, and senior EI leadership is required urgently.
6. Accelerate upgrades of N24 and N80 road connections: The South East requires upgrades on its road connectivity to the west and internally. The N24 upgrade needs to be progressed and the route should also be seriously examined as an alternative motorway route to the proposed N20 development.
7. Provision of a 24/7 Cardiac Care Centre for the South East: The announcement of the appointment of the contractor to build the second Cath Lab in UHW is very welcome and we now need to ensure that this translates to comprehensive delivery of 24/7 cardiac care service to ensure that patients do not have to travel long distances for urgent care.
The Forum will operate a rotating Chair and speaking on behalf of the five First Citizens, current Chair, Cllr. Damien Geoghegan said:
“In signing the ‘South East First Citizens Accord’ the five First Citizens are agreeing to work collaboratively to achieve significant progress on these seven common priorities for the region. Advancing these tenets are critical to addressing the structural deficits in the South East economy and creating sustainable regional economic and social development. It is the right time for us to work together with the aim of developing a prosperous future for everybody in the region.”
The five Local Authorities in the Region have increased their collaboration over the past five years and have resourced the Ireland South East Development Office (ISEDO). ISEDO manages the delivery of the South East Regional Enterprise Plan and facilitates collaboration among industry and public agencies within the region. The signing of the First Citizens’ Accord now builds on this work by ensuring political cohesion on key priorities. The five First Citizens in the Region are: Cllr. Tom O’Neill, Carlow; Cllr. Andrew McGuinness, Kilkenny; Cllr. Michael Smith, Tipperary; Cllr. Damien Geoghegan, Waterford; and Cllr. Ger Carthy, Wexford.