Thursday, 1 April 2021
Project Ireland 2040: Motion [Private Members]
Imelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
Speaking of areas that have been neglected and abandoned and in which there has been insufficient funding and investment over the years, I raise the ongoing issues facing Drogheda, south Louth and the east Meath area. A report commissioned by the Minister for Justice into Drogheda as a result of the drugs feud was published last Friday and laid bare the consequences of the neglect of Drogheda by successive governments. Drogheda is the largest town in Ireland and is located on the Dublin-Belfast corridor. We have a fantastic community with great potential but for decades Drogheda has been let down by central government.
Drogheda was designated as a growth centre in the national development plan but that means nothing if the Government is not willing to fund anything. The lack of infrastructure and services in the town has made the implementation of the plan impossible and shows just how much investment is needed to get Drogheda to reach its full potential.
An example of this is the port access northern cross route, which is absolutely vital infrastructure for the town. We need it for the development of housing under the northern environs plan and we need it to improve transport links and congestion in the town and to attract businesses. Earlier this month, Louth County Council's application under the urban regeneration and development fund was turned down. This is the third application for funding that has been rejected. The plan was shelved during the recession, which has left Drogheda waiting for 15 years for the project to begin. Each government claims to support the project but refuses to fund it.
The report released last week showed that Drogheda has a higher than average rate of unemployment and a younger than average population. This is very significant in the context of the problems we are having with drugs and crime. It is not possible to implement the employment objectives of the plan because Drogheda does not have an IDA office, an Enterprise Ireland office or a local enterprise office, LEO. Drogheda's industries have disappeared and nothing has been done to encourage new industries and businesses to set up in the area. Drogheda is ripe for development as a site for a pharmaceutical manufacturing hub but instead the Government has hollowed out employment in the town with initiatives like the Amazon data centre, which provides only a handful of jobs where thousands should have been created. We need a second IDA business park on the north side of the town and a new third level institute to co-operate with industry-specific training companies to help generate local employment. During normal times, more than 15,000 people commute from the town every day. This has to change.
With regard to tourism, south Louth needs to be developed as a tourism destination of historical significance given the history of Drogheda and the surrounding areas. We need a Fáilte Ireland office as there is none in the region.
The housing targets under Rebuilding Ireland also need to be revised. Drogheda has more than 1,800 people on the housing list, many of whom have been waiting longer than ten years but the housing target under the plan for the period from 2018 to 2021 is 384. This plan is not making even a dent in the housing list, which grows longer every day.
Elsewhere in the county, we see the erosion of services with no thought given to the devastating impact their loss has on small towns and rural communities. The most recent example is the loss of the Bank of Ireland branch in Dunleer. This is a heavy blow to the community and to businesses in the area.
The majority of these issues were raised in the report, which goes to show the dire consequences of neglect and decline in large towns such as Drogheda. The fact that we have to beg and plead for adequate Garda resources at a time when the town is in the throes of a vicious feud between organised criminal gangs says it all. We do not want worthless titles such as "designated growth centre". They are not worth the paper on which they are written. They are meaningless unless the Government is going to invest in Drogheda. We desperately need investment and I suggest the Minister, and any other relevant Ministers, read the recent scoping report into Drogheda. If they do, they will see it backs up everything I have just said.