In the aftermath of the 2008 economic collapse, public infrastructure spending was severely curtailed, with capital investment reduced to 2.5% of GDP.
Our infrastructure fell out of step with Ireland’s later rapid growth, potentially undermining our economic competitiveness. That is why, last year, in Sligo, the Government unveiled Project Ireland 2040.
The plan was a sea-change in how we invest in public infrastructure. In the past, public investment was spread too thinly and investment decisions didn’t have a defined strategy.
Project Ireland 2040 was designed to strengthen rural economies and communities and bolster our regional cities and growth towns, via policy supports that ensured balanced development.
The publication today of the first annual report of Project Ireland 2040 shows that our plan is working.
High-impact projects in every county are benefitting from the €1bn Rural Regeneration and Development Fund.
This strategic investment is transforming communities by delivering projects in tourism, in town and village regeneration, in agri-food, and in recreation.
Projects such as the Great Southern Greenway, in Limerick, Hook Head Lighthouse, in Wexford, National Centre of Excellence for Surfing, in Sligo, and the Ocean Innovation Centre Ireland, in Killybegs, are utilising their locations’ natural advantages, building resilience in rural communities, and making our towns and villages vibrant places for families to live.
Last year, IDA client companies recorded jobs growth of 7% and employment in multinationals reached its highest ever level of 229,057.
In fact, every region is showing a net gain in jobs: 58% — the highest-ever level — of employment in IDA client companies is now outside Dublin and over 60% of Enterprise Ireland job creations are also outside Dublin.
The Stability Programme Update showed that employment growth is forecast at 2% this year and 2.1% in 2020, which will have lowered the unemployment rate to 5.4% at the end of 2019 and to 5% at the end of 2020.
We are delivering housing that is planned, in areas with adequate transport links and amenities. In 2018, house completions were up 25% on 2017.
Travel is improving: Sustainable public transport trips increased by 13% in our key growth centres of Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Waterford.
Planning for the Metrolink is underway, which will link Dublin Airport, Irish Rail, Dart, Dublin Bus, and Luas services, creating fully integrated public transport in the Greater Dublin Area and carrying up to 50m passengers
The sod was turned on the new runway in Dublin Airport in early 2019 and the runway will be operational by 2021.
Investment in the Regional Airports Programme is also set to grow in 2019.
In 2018, €3.7m was invested in capital projects at the regional airports of Donegal, Kerry, and Ireland West Airport Knock.
Roadways, such as the N4 Castlebaldwin to Colooney and the N70 Kilderry Bends, will shortly open, while the number of electric vehicles on the roads doubled last year.
More broadly, we are taking action now to decarbonise Ireland by creating sustainable green jobs, sustainable food production, deepening our energy security, improving the quality of our lives, and making our working and built environments healthier.
Our energy network must be updated and transformed to deliver on the promise of transitioning to a low-carbon and climate-resilient society.
Eirgrid has been working with its French counterpart on the development of the Celtic Interconnector Project, a proposed electrical link between the two countries.
Following the UK’s exit from the EU, this would be Ireland’s sole direct energy connection to an EU member state, ensuring energy security for the country.
Other forms of energy generation are also important and the Oweninny power wind farm in Mayo, a joint project between ESB and Bord na Móna, will provide renewable electricity for homes and businesses in Ireland.
Sport and culture are fundamental to our cities, towns, villages, and rural areas, with 47 arts centres, theatres, galleries, museums and creative spaces completed in 2018.
In 2019, 170 projects will be funded by the Sports Capital Programme.
Access to a range of quality education and health services is a defining characteristic of attractive, successful, and competitive places.
Total public investment in health will grow by 24% in 2019. 127 primary care centres are now open, a further 37 are underway, and 11 are to open in 2019.
Ongoing projects will deliver 40,000 additional and replacement school places, replace 600 prefabs, and provide 200 new science labs, readying for our economy’s future skill needs.
School sports facilities will be enhanced through the construction and modernisation of 48 PE halls at post-primary level, and 82 general purpose rooms at primary level, during the same period.
There certainly have been failings. The overruns in the National Children’s Hospital are unacceptable.
The Government is committed to guarding against this happening again and we are working on implementing a suite of reforms to avoid major cost overrun on key national priority projects.
These include how we treat risk and uncertainty in project planning, how we approach the procurement process, how we evaluate major projects, and how we ensure that we have the right blend of skills and experience in the public and private sectors to deliver the full ambition of Project Ireland 2040.
External risks also remain, not least of which are the nature and timing of the UK’s exit from the European Union.
It is vital that we build up our fiscal defences, so that we can support the economy and provide for society, if and when these risks materialise.
In the first year of Project Ireland 2040, investment has grown significantly and critical economic, social, and cultural infrastructure is being delivered across the country.
Project Ireland 2040 is enhancing regional connectivity and competitiveness, improving environmental sustainability, and building a fairer, more equitable Ireland for everyone.
We need to maintain and build on the momentum already achieved, and be flexible and innovative to ensure delivery for all our people, now and in the future.
Pascal Donohoe is minister for finance and public expenditure and reform