Now is the time to firmly place balanced Regional Development and Rural Ireland front and centre of EU and Government policy by identifying and implementing rural solutions to national problems.
As we work our way out of the turmoil of this pandemic, the entire EU Project faces an extraordinary test. However, we do have opportunities to not only address the democratic deficit that contributed to Brexit, but to re-shape many aspects of our society and of our Island. The EU must play a major role in this transition.
The EU financial support package, the suspension of the Stability & Growth Pact, the temporary relaxing of state aid rules, the CAP Transition Regulation and, of course, the next CAP Programme have to be used to invigorate the Regions with the highest COVID-19 exposure ratios as identified by the Regional Assemblies in their recent economic analysis.
All too often we in Rural Ireland hear of millions and billions available but it is always out of our reach with too much bureaucracy and too many unintended beneficiaries. Interest rates charged by banks of up to 4.5% is not acceptable while ECB rates are -0.5% today, the lowest on record. Profiteering on the backs of struggling citizens and businesses is abhorrent.
During this Pandemic, focus has been put on the fact that 40% of the population live in the Dublin area and 44% work there. Only a fool would consider this imbalance to be sustainable or even safe. Investment policies driven by population numbers simply don’t work.
We can no longer miss opportunities to deepen and widen the links between Education and Industry. Nor can we forgo opportunities for remote working and learning because we don’t have equal access to broadband and telecommunications.
We are losing out so much in human capital by denying children and adults with Autism and those living with disabilities the opportunities to develop and use their abilities and talents to fulfil their potential.
The economic recovery must include fast tracking of critical physical and telecommunications infrastructure as well as introducing fairness and equity into our fishing and farming industries that form the back bone of rural Ireland. The denial of a tie-up scheme for fishermen and the reluctance to convergence is an example of this.
We must ensure that we proactively pursue all monetary opportunities, as well as using all fiscal tools available to direct industry and job creation.
The long promised Strategic Development Zone at Knock Airport must be advanced as a matter of urgency and the airport itself must be enabled to reach its full potential as a catalyst for growth in the West..
The EU Commission’s proposal to make 2021 the ‘EU Year of Rail’ presents us with opportunities to bring the Western Rail Corridor to fruition and upgrade existing rail services.
We now have an opportunity to reconfigure our health services to provide equality of access to all our citizens regardless of where they live. To squander this crisis would be a travesty, change is inevitable but progress is optional.
As this is my maiden speech, I want to thank the people of Mayo for placing their trust in me and Sinn Féin and to assure them that this seat belongs to them. I will use it wisely.