Several hundred people turned up last night at the launch of a new initiative to promote employment growth in one of the areas worst hit by emigration.
Building Your Area For The Future Generation is an initiative involving four counties, Longford, Leitrim, Roscommon and Cavan, and is supported by the four GAA county boards in the counties involved.
Nine employers, including the Department of Social Protection based in Carrick-on-Shannon, attended the event in Longford which it is hoped will boost employment in the area.
The initiative has arisen out of the Upper Shannon-Erne Future Economy project set up by Bord na Móna and Leitrim County Council to re-generate the economy in the upper Shannon-Erne corridor.
Bord na Móna chief executive Gabriel D'Arcy, a native of Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, urged local communities "to take our destiny in our own hands. We have to believe ourselves that there is a future in our communities for ourselves and our children."
Mr D'Arcy said he wanted to bring emigrant Irish back home to Ireland, but also to bring companies to the region. "From a global point of view we have so much richness in this community," he said.
There were opportunities in artisan agribusiness and tourism to be exploited, he believed. High speed broadband and better connections made the area more accessible. Parts of the region were only an hour and a half from Dublin Airport, he said, which was nothing in global terms.
He cited the campaign for the EU protected designation of origin status for Boxty and the potential reopening of the Leitrim-West Cavan narrow gauge railway track, closed down in 1959, as a cycle track as examples of local initiatives which could help create employment.
“The potential is incredible but we need to know what our strengths are and we need to go shoulder-to-shoulder in supporting each other,” he said.
Michael McLoughlin, the chief executive of the Government-backed Connect Ireland urged local people to be the “eyes and ears of Ireland” in attempting to attract investment to the region.
Connect Ireland was set up as part of the Government’s job strategy two years ago and encourages individuals to use their contacts to bring jobs to Ireland.
To date 23,000 people have registered with Connect Ireland. This has helped bring 19 companies and 463 jobs, including 300 non-Dublin jobs, to Ireland. Those who help attract business to Ireland receive a financial reward through the “succeed in Ireland” initiative.
Mr McLoughlin, who previously worked with the IDA, cited MBNA in Carrick-on-Shannon and Pramerica in Donegal as two multinational companies which had set up in Ireland partially as a result of local connections.
Hugh Morris, an auctioneer from Kells, said he had persuaded a company called Mafic to locate in his home town simply by asking them if they would consider setting up there.
He knew somebody involved in the company. “It was as simple as that,” he said. “When they came back to me they said, ‘yes, we will look at Ireland’ and then I asked them if they would look at my hometown and they said ‘yes’.
He told the audience: “You as individuals have the potential to bring those people back home, but you have to ask the question.”
Among those at last night's event was Susan Cleary, the public affairs manager with the US embassy.