Waterford in “significant transition”

Eoghan Dalton Reports

A co-author of a study of the region’s economic fortunes has said the IDA’s policy of focusing on Ireland Inc and investment in Dublin has set in place a pattern of people migrating away from the South East. Instead, according to Dr Ray Griffin, the IDA should look towards creating sustainable communities by helping improve investment in the country’s regions.
He added that claims negative commentary on the economy has had an impact on Waterford were “ludicrous”.
He was responding to a panel interview with Waterford City & County Council Chief Executive Michael Walsh, the IDA’s South East Regional Manager Brendan McDonald and Enterprise Ireland’s Regional Director Martin Corkery, which aired on WLR last week.

Mr McDonald disagreed with analysis emphasising comparisons between investment each region and city receives. “That comparison is not an effective comparison because as Ireland Inc we have a strong Dublin, because that will drive investment into other regions as well,” he said. He explained how the IDA looks at job creation as its key metric, adding that the country is experiencing its highest rate of jobs since the boom of over a decade ago. Last month the South East Economic Monitor, co-authored by Waterford Institute of Technology lecturers Dr Griffin, Dr Cormac O’Keeffe and Mr John Casey, warned the region was suffering from a “missing generation” of people aged 20 to 45 while also claiming the recovery was running out of steam.
It also had some praise for the IDA, pointing to how the region attracted a “relatively large share” of new jobs created through the body’s work in 2017. But it went on to say that a “huge gap remains” between the South East and the rest of the country.

IDA Regional Manager Brendan McDonald.

IDA Regional Manager Brendan McDonald.

During the lengthy radio interview the three defended their record in Waterford, with Mr Walsh saying the missing generation claim has been “overstated”. He said the region has strong assets that stand to be further enhanced, if a technological university for the South East can be formed. He continued: “The way I view it, is Waterford is in a really significant transition at the moment. What we’re looking to achieve in the context of the North Quays is to move transition into transformation. Like historically Waterford was a manufacturing city, we’re (still) very dependent on the port function in some respects. We’re now moving into a completely different employment sphere and economic sphere.”Brendan McDonald said during the programme that he had received calls from people outside of Ireland interested in Waterford, who wondered if negative commentary about the region was correct and whether “the South East was worth coming to at all”.
Dr Griffin felt was it wrong to put the blame on commentary. “It’s ludicrous to suggest that a WIT lecturer can change the economy with his words. The economy is made up of hundreds of decisions taken at kitchen tables,” he told The Munster Express.

He added that the South East Economic Monitor is “an unbiased, apolitical, high quality study…that has the same relationship to the economy as a weather forecaster does to the weather”.
One aspect of the interview Dr Griffin agreed with was Michael Walsh’s assertion that Waterford must rely on itself alone.The CEO of the Council had said: “There’s a certain inclination that says ‘somebody else should do something for us’. The real answer is that we should do it for ourselves because we have a set of assets, we have talented people, we’re in a most beautiful corner of the world, and the challenge for us is to express that confidently. It’s about us determining our own strengths, our own uniqueness and about us selling the message,” he said.Griffin said the chief executive is “dead right” on this front. He pointed to the local authority’s work on projects including the Viking Triangle, the Greenway and works on Dungarvan’s town centre as examples of the Council having to take the lead – with little help from central Government. “The way he has to live is on the basis that the inequity will continue,” added Dr Griffin.
The economics lecturer said Michael Walsh, Brendan McDonald and Martin Corkery are “fighting very hard” for Waterford and the South East, while noting that Mr Corkery identified 5,000 extra jobs in the Southern region, primarily in Cork. “Overall the three said things are okay, while the South East Economic Monitor says things are not okay. I can understand how hurtful the monitor can be to them,” he concluded.

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