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Pickpocketing the people of the West

THE West of Ireland has been condemned to years of neglect by successive Governments - of all political persuasions - and it should come as no surprise that the same old story is being repeated during the era of the Celtic Tiger. Yet even the numbing effect of decades of State indifference has failed to prepare the people of the West for the shocking facts and figures that have been uncovered by Mayo Deputy Beverley Flynn in the Dáil in recent months.
Whether one likes or dislikes Beverley Flynn is really a moot point. Nor does it matter whether a person is a supporter of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour or Sinn Féin. Petty political persuasions matter not a whit in the face of flagrant neglect of a part of the country that represents onequarter of the overall population. This is not about political allegiances - it’s about loyalty to your own native area whether that’s the west, the north-west or the border region. The BMW region - as it is known --has been hung out to dry by a Government that is so shockingly biased towards Dublin and the East that it is unashamedly apathetic to the needs of Connacht and the surrounding counties.
A few facts are worth re-stating at this point. At the turn of the millennium Ireland ran a very successful campaign in the European Union to secure Objective One status for the Border, Midlands and West region (hence the name, ‘BMW’). There were a lot of countries in Europe that would have utterly opposed Ireland’s ‘special’ treatment under that latest round of structural funds. The Celtic Tiger had been roaring for half a decade and it seemed inexplicable that one of the fastest growing economies in the world should be seeking the largesse of the European Union.
The Objective One campaign was a major coup for Bertie Ahern and the Government. Funding to the tune of several billion was provided by the EU for infrastructural projects within the BMW region.
Organisations like the Council for the West and the Western Development Commission were elated: at last the West of Ireland was about to get a fair deal from central Government. But how naive we all were.
The latest statistics on Objective One funding - as obtained by Deputy Flynn during a Dáil question last November - reveal that •3 billion remains unspent in the BMW region. In the area of road construction alone, a staggering •500m is lying idle. And, this, at a time when North Mayo is still waiting for the second phase of the N-26 Foxford bypass to get the go-ahead, when Castlebar and Westport are waiting for a long-promised new road and when development of Ballina has been put on hold because of the absence of appropriate relief roads. It is utterly outrageous.
The fact that the funding has not been spent due to the inaction of the Government might be remotely acceptable if we knew that the money was to be made available in the coming years. But that is not the case. In fact, it is becoming increasingly apparent that if the money is not secure in the next six months it may be lost forever to the people of the West of Ireland.
What has happened is quite incredible. This is money that was given to the BMW region by the European Union and it has been siphoned away by Bertie Ahern and his Government. Basically, the people of the West of Ireland have been pickpocketed by their own Government.
The Objective One funding was tied into the National Development Plan which meant the money had to be spent before the end of the plan’s life cycle. The plan dies a death at the end of this year. Therefore, the Government has six months to cough up the •3 billion it owes to the people of the West.
The million-dollar question is whether or not the Government intends to invest the
•3 billion in some other part of the country - either the east or the south - after the National Development Plan has run its course at the end of 2006. If that is to be the case then it is a criminal abuse of political power and it should be taken to the highest authorities in Europe. The money was provided by the European Union and it is quite incredible that its expenditure has not been overseen by the mandarins in Brussels. Where is the accountability? Where is the transparency?
But, let’s be clear on one thing, Brussels is not to blame for what has happened. The actions of the Government on the issue of Objective One funding is as cynical and self-serving as anything that has happened in Irish politics since the foundation of the State.
The utter contempt and arrogance shown by a democratically-elected Government to a large section of its electorate is quite astounding. Make no mistake about it: the people of the West of Ireland are being treated as second class citizens.
Bertie Ahern and his Cabinet ministers continue to engage in a pathetic game of duck and dive on this issue. The most recent attempt by Deputy Flynn to initiative a debate in the Dáil was shot down by the Ceann Comhairle on the basis that the Minister for Transport does not have responsibility for spending on roads infrastructure. Was there ever a more ridiculous excuse for refusing a debate on an issue of public importance? Do these people think we are absolute idiots?
When John Healy wrote the celebrated ‘No One Shouted Stop’ - his definitive account of neglect in the West of Ireland - he opened with the line: ‘No one gets angry anymore.’ It is a high time the people of the West of Ireland began to get angry about the manner in which they have been treated by central Government. It was bad enough that the West was deprived of State funding by successive Governments but it utterly scandalous that EU money destined for a certain part of the country has been pilfered by the very politicians who are supposed to be representing each and every citizen of the State. If this were to happen in a Third World country we would be calling in the United Nations.
It is vitally important that a resounding message is sent to central Government in the coming months. The message is simple: if the missing •3 billion is not safeguarded before the end of the year the Government will fall on its sword at the next General Election. The one trump card the people of the West possess is the fast-approaching election and we can only hope that as polling day looms large on the horizon the Government will see sense and give the people of the West what they are entitled. No-one in the BMW region is looking for special treatment; we are simply seeking the money that was awarded to our region by the EU six years ago.
One hopes, too, that the baton will be taken up by politicians of all political persuasions in the coming months. Beverley Flynn has been fighting a lone battle in the Dáil up to now and, irrespective of the perceived sins of the past, the people of the West owe the Castlebar-based Deputy a huge debt for the tireless work she has put into this campaign. She has exposed the Government’s duplicity and, for that alone, she deserves a lot of credit. There are six months left before the West’s •3 billion disappears, possibly forever. We have not a day to lose in our quest for fair play.

Posted Date: 
25 May 2006 - 11:48am