The fifth annual Waterford Newfoundland exchange took place last week. The number of visitors might not have been as large as on previous occasions but the link is well maintained. The emigration trail stopped from Passage East and Waterford in the 1830s but new migrants could go there again as new opportunities are becoming available.
A strong delegation arrived from Canada and, at Waterford Institute of Technology, an economic conference revealed that trade and exchanges could boost jobs here. We learned that the Newfoundland area is undergoing a jobs boom and much of this is related to energy and mining. A huge investment has taken place there in Hydro power with many associated building jobs. Irish workers and businesses could possibly assist in these projects in the years ahead and an Irish trade mission did visit there last year.
Like Waterford, which has lost much of its industry, Newfoundland has lost paper plants and cod fishing. Now, with the energy boom, there is also a move towards eco style holidays that suit the province so there is a jobs boost in that area too. While here in Ireland we become obsessed with a broken bank and the addition of its losses to our national debt, the Canadians show a more frontier spirit.
A Councillor from St John’s remarked on the bad economic news pouring out on the people but she reckoned the Irish are strong and resilient enough to bounce back. We should look at our resources just as they did in the last few decades when they ran out of fish. A get up and go attitude is recommended.
This point was also reiterated by a speaker from the ESRI, the Government think tank on the economy. Elgar of the ESRI reckoned that we in the South East have fallen behind the rest of the country since the Eighties, a point we know to be true if we look at failed regional industry and the lack of replacement jobs.
It is back to ‘me fein’ and doing it for ourselves in the near future as the Government has little money to dish out to the regions. The airport, port and motorway will add to potential options. There were some good examples of small local businesses based in the rural community that were doing well. Varying from fruit and fish businesses to IT and tourism, there are businesses that can expand. Education was seen as a great resource to build upon also. The Newfoundland may get us to think outward more and give us encouragement.
It could also be a source for some of our skilled people to seek short term work, just as they did in the old days when people travelled over for the fishing seasons.
Could history be revisited again with this connection? We watched some films of Irish music sessions in Canada as old traditions were kept alive. Will new Irish revitalise this cultural link? We were impressed with how proud the people of Newfoundland are of their Irish heritage.