Discussing challenges and opportunities with regional representatives, Walsh pledged to ensure that both the Taoiseach and the European Commision Vice President would meet with the group and listen to their concerns
A meeting between the Taoiseach and the North & Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) is expected to be confirmed in the coming weeks, following a commitment by MEP Maria Walsh to the NWRA. The group has written to the office of An Taoiseach on a number of occasions seeking an urgent meeting between Leo Varadkar and a delegation from the NWRA, but the request has gone unanswered. Now, the Midlands-North-West MEP has promised she will deliver on the long-awaited meeting, and has also guaranteed she will organise a meeting between the NWRA and the Vice President of the European Commission, Dubravka Šuica.
“I think the time has come for the Irish Government to ‘positively discriminate’ in favour of the Northern and Western region. For too long, this region has been neglected and it’s time things moved in the opposite direction. The NWRA deserves an audience with the Taoiseach, but also with Vice President Šuica, and I will stand over my guarantees and deliver on those meetings,” said MEP Walsh.
The NWRA covers eight counties and nine local authorities – Galway (City Council and County Council), Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo, Donegal, Monaghan, Mayo and Cavan. Comprising 25 elected members from across the region, the representatives are eager to meet with the Taoiseach and VP Šuica to discuss a variety of issues including the need for funding, and the growing appeal of the West of Ireland in terms of education, lifestyle, and ease of access via Ireland West Airport Knock. In addition, the group wants to hear from both leaders about their vision for the region – a region which is considered to be ‘in transition’ and continues to be neglected in terms of funding.
The recent Regional Competitiveness Index from the European Commission found that Northern and Western Region of Ireland underperformed in areas relating to infrastructure, innovation capabilities, market size and business sophistication. Of the 234 EU regions examined in the index, the Eastern and Midland Region of Ireland was ranked 24th, with the Southern Region ranked 90th, and the Northern and Western Region ranked 113th.
In discussion with the NWRA elected representatives in recent days, MEP Walsh outlined her priorities for the region for 2023, the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, and how she will work with the group to ensure the region gets the funding, exposure and support that it so richly deserves. “Recent data from the European Commission shows that Ireland is ranked as the 9th most competitive economy in the EU, but Ireland’s competitiveness is being undermined by regional infrastructure deficits. We need to work together closely to make sure our region is not overlooked, and also that we build a stronger connection between Ireland and the EU,” she said.
Last November, the European Commission approved a €217m investment package to support regional development schemes across Ireland’s northern and western region. The north and west of Ireland was downgraded to a “lagging region” by the European Commission at the time, signalling a need for further support to reduce regional inequality.
“I very much intend to speak with the Taoiseach about the regional infrastructure deficits and what we can do to address this. As well, I think it’s important for Vice President Šuica to address the group about how peripheral regions can access additional funding or how ‘regions in transition’ can use other funding streams to their advantage,” Walsh added.
“The north and west region has so much going for it and it’s high time that the powers that be, and those holding the purse strings – both at national and European level – fully appreciate all that the region has to offer,” said MEP Walsh.