Priests create network to attract US industry to Ireland

Trio have sent out over 100 letters, setting up links with 12 parishes in the US

Fr Shane Crombie has teamed up with parish administrator Tom Whelan and retired parish priest Fr Sean Heaney to establish a trans-Atlantic church-based network focusing on attracting American industry to Ireland. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

Fr Shane Crombie has teamed up with parish administrator Tom Whelan and retired parish priest Fr Sean Heaney to establish a trans-Atlantic church-based network focusing on attracting American industry to Ireland. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

 

Two priests and a parish administrator have spent the last year on a mission to spread the word.

The devout Tullamore trio - parish administrator Tom Whelan, curate Fr Shane Crombie and retired parish priest Fr Sean Heaney - have set about establishing a trans-Atlantic church-based network focusing on attracting American industry to Ireland.

From their base in Co Offaly, they have been busy writing to parishes and priests in an attempt to lure US companies here, with a particular focus on dioceses in Chicago, Boston, Arizona and California.

Their campaign was sparked last year following a visit to the town from a Connect Ireland representative in the wake of the hugely successful local “Gathering” events.

Connect Ireland - which was launched with the mandate to offer cash incentives to anyone successfully introducing companies to Ireland - is also stepping up its efforts this year. It is now rolling out its “community action plan” in which local authorities throughout the country have agreed to appoint dedicated liaison officials to manage local campaigns.

Currently over 100 companies are introduced here from abroad every month, and to date have come from 37 different countries.

As far as Fr Crombie is concerned, one of the best ready-built networks out there is the Catholic Church. Their motivation though is not money; it’s just the latest manifestation of the church helping out local communities, he says.

“It’s kind of a networking event in a parish setting. We have been making contact with parishes and asking them if they are aware of business people over there who are interested in setting up in Ireland. It’s a personal thing, parish to parish, but there is more than clergy involved.

“If you look back in Ireland, there are lots of priests and clergy who have always looked out for the good of their community. It’s spiritual but it’s also about people, and people’s lives are so important.”

So far, the trio have sent out over 100 letters, setting up links with 12 parishes in Boston and 16 across California, as well as others in Arizona and Chicago.

They insist they are just beginning and “feeling their way” through the process. They hope the network will eventually find companies to cross the Atlantic.

“There are 195 Catholic dioceses in the US, with over 17,000 parishes. We are just one; to make individual contact with them all would be an impossibility,” said Fr Crombie.

“We are not going to fix the economy or anything like that but we all have our part to play.”

The Connect Ireland initiative has so far led to the creation of more than 1,000 jobs.

Eight counties have benefitted and the organisation is now in advanced talks with 88 companies with an eye on a further 2,500 potential jobs.