Invest in West to balance Dublin, John Moran tells Ireland's Business Strategy Conference

Former department of finance secretary general John Moran has questioned the Government’s capital spending plans and suggested more should be done to counter-balance Dublin’s position as the country’s main economic driver.

Mr Moran questioned why his former colleagues in the department and their political supremos are not doing more to prioritise longer term investment projects at a time when domestic economic stimulus through increased current spending is not needed.

Speaking at Ireland’s Business Strategy Conference 2016 at Thomond Park, the former finance chief also called on the Government to consider developing an Atlantic Economic Corridor stretching from Cork to Galway, via Limerick, as the country’s second economic hub.

“After years of deferring capital expenditure, why are we not doing more to prioritise greater capital expenditure and investment over current spending to allow for greater investment?” Mr Moran asked.

“Equally, I would ask my former colleagues and our politicians for greater clarity as to whether the model for an Ireland of 8m people is Dublin with 6m plus the rest [of the country] with 2m evenly distributed as it is now.

"Or, Dublin with small growth, say to 3m to 4m, another large area with 2m, and the rest distributed across other areas.

“They may be both valid choices but as we have major decisions to make on the capital infrastructure front, it is important someone decides this first and thereafter plans holistically across all services: Education, health, housing, transport, cultural, and the rest.”

Current trends mean the country is eternally playing catch-up to the infrastructural needs of Dublin and its surrounds as its population continues to grow while the rest of the country shares the remaining resources among its other towns and cities, the European Investment Bank director and Limerick Economic Forum member added.

Mr Moran also advocated greater urbanisation and a move away from “facilitating and encouraging” rural living as a more sustainable means of catering for future growth in population.

Smaller towns and secondary cities, he suggested, might replicate the urban feel of larger cities with all they have to offer and become densely-populated satellites in order to thrive.

“We need to know if we’re going to build our country around Dublin or if we can create another large metropolitan area, whether that be around Cork or have someone,” said Mr Moran.

“Look at an Atlantic Economic Corridor involving Cork, Limerick, and Galway, not as three different independent investment locations which offer their own resources but rather as one larger metropolitan area.

“But to make a western corridor a reality would mean rethinking decisions about why we continue to put the best children’s hospital; the better adult healthcare; the wider range of educational offerings — primary, secondary, and tertiary — into Dublin.

“Relocating all of those to an alternative central location outside of Dublin would be the elements that make a choice to live elsewhere more reasonable for returning emigrants, the new Irish or students leaving our universities.”

Head of IDA Consumer, Content, and Business Services division, Shane Nolan, said that the Mid-West and Munster generally was well placed to take advantage of a number of potential growth areas to further stimulate the regional economy and create jobs too.

The region’s aviation history, with Shannon Airport as a lynchpin, can be leveraged to take advantage of the burgeoning drone industry, Mr Nolan suggested.

A growing trend within the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors also represents a major opportunity for the region which plays host to a litany of such firms, he said.

Mr Nolan sounded a note of caution too, however, warning that large-scale office space in Limerick was lacking for companies looking to house more than 50 staff.

“Above that, if we want to bring in a game-changer; if want to bring in another Uber to Limerick we ask ourselves where would we put them?” said Mr Nolan.

Seeing work recommence on the Hanging Gardens site on the city’s Henry St which could house up to 800 staff would help “the IDA sleep much better at night”, Mr Nolan added.

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