The Government has fleshed out the next steps for the Project Ireland 2040 Plan and defended its strategy for promoting it.

At the first of a series of events to promote the €116bn investment, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, and ministers Michael Creed and Mary Mitchell O’Connor told an audience at UCC that Project 2040 would transform the country, with Mr Donohoe outlining the next steps.

That will involve regional spatial and economic strategies, metropolitan area strategic plans and the launching of a National Regeneration and Development Agency, all backed by four new investment funds.

They will distribute €1bn for rural regeneration and development, €2bn for urban regeneration and development, €500m on climate action and another €500m for disruptive technology innovation. Mr Donohoe said that those funds would be available from January 1 and would be open to expressions of interest.

The plan had already received a high-profile launch in Sligo last month, while there was severe criticism of the government’s Strategic Communications Unit over its handling of advertisements placed in local and national newspapers promoting Project Ireland 2040 — now the subject of a general review by the secretary general at the Department of the Taoiseach.

Mr Varadkar defended the fresh presentations on the plan and said other events would follow.

“We want everyone to know about it,” he said, adding that “the first sectoral launch will be one on arts, culture, and heritage and how that additional billion euros is going to be spent to improve our arts and culture infrastructure and that will be in a couple of weeks time”.

Mr Varadkar also revealed the cost of yesterday’s event in UCC was €5,000, but said since two lecture halls had to be used to accommodate the 800 people who attended, it worked out at a cost of about €7.50 per person.

The presentation outlined how delivery of the plan will be overseen by an implementation board, with increased capital expenditure in virtually all areas and the formation of an agency to look at how land — including government land — can be better used.

Mr Donohoe appealed for public help in making the plan a reality, calling it “a compass for our country” and adding: “We can’t do it on our own.”

The audience heard that population growth of 1m people over the next two decades would necessitate other cities growing at a more rapid rate than Dublin, which, Mr Varadkar said, needed “breathing space”.

He said that Ireland was emerging from “a lost decade” and was now aiming to bring investment in infrastructure above the EU average.

Mr Varadkar referred to other hopes, such as a possible high-speed rail system between Belfast, Dublin and Cork and at the very least, improved rail times on existing lines, as well as a new Bus Connect service around the country which, he said, would mean buses being more like “the Luas on wheels”.

The Taoiseach also said the Cork Events Centre is going to happen, with news likely in “a couple of weeks”, while also outlining how Moneypoint will cease burning coal in 2025 and no petrol or diesel vehicles will be on sale after 2030.

The Taoiseach and ministers later made a separate Ireland 2040 presentation at the Waterford Institute of Technology.


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