Students call on Government to address east-west ‘economic apartheid’

Pupils from St Nathy’s College in Co Roscommon to address Oireachtas members

A youth coalition campaigning to highlight east-west "economic apartheid" in the State is due to address members of the Oireachtas in Dublin this week.

The coalition founded by secondary school students at St Nathy's College in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, is calling for "radical change" to the Government's Project Ireland 2040 national development framework.

It is calling for “ring-fenced” finance to be committed to the Western Rail Corridor, Knock airport and hubs, and deep sea harbours on the west coast.

The St Nathy's BMW (Border, Midland and West) Youth Coalition was formed by current fifth year students who studied a module on regional economics with teacher Martin Daly during transition year. It says it is not aligned to any political party or individual, and hopes to develop links with other student groups.

Eurostat figures compiled by the students show the BMW region fell behind the rest of the State by over 50 per cent in regional gross domestic product terms from 2007 to 2015.

A report compiled by the group questions whether this represented the “second repartition of Ireland” due to the severe impact on communities west of the Shannon.

Transport projects

The students say they were particularly concerned by the recent report in The Irish Times confirming that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar deleted key west coast transport projects from the EU Trans-European Networks (Ten-T) funding programme during his time as transport minister in 2011 in spite of a warning against same by then Midlands/North West MEP Jim Higgins.

Mr Varadkar’s decision effectively deprived transport projects north of Limerick of any prospect before 2030 of qualifying for EU funding under criteria which dictates there must be rail, road, air, sea and cross-Border elements.

Galway-based consultant Kealan Flynn, who obtained Freedom of Information documentation on the correspondence, estimates that the decision could have cost the region €1 billion in infrastructure stimulus investment and up to 17,500 jobs.

The St Nathy’s BMW Youth Coalition has been invited to address TDs and Senators from the BMW region in the Dáil on Wednesday.

Decades of neglect

The group believes decisions such as that relating to the EU Ten-T programme have “roots in decades of neglect and political culpability”.

"All our public representatives must now address this injustice,"spokesman Diarmaid Geever said, and a "genuine strategic investment north of a line from Galway to Dublin "must be prioritised".

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times

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