I presume the Deputy is referring to the recent submission made by the Western Development Commission (WDC) to the Department of Finance with regard to the National Development Plan (NDP) for the period 2007-2013.
Notwithstanding the WDC's comments, data from the Central Statistics Office and other sources suggests that the income gap between the BMW and the Southern and Eastern (S&E) regions is, in fact, closing. For example, the gap of 11.02% in 2002 has narrowed from 12% in 2001 and 13.4% in 2000. Furthermore, differentials in the cost of living and housing between the regions would suggest that the gap in living standards between the regions is considerably narrower than the data for disposable incomes suggests.
Convergence between the two regions has also occurred in respect to employment. Between the end of 2000 and the end of 2005, the number employed increased by 20% in the BMW region compared to 13% in the S&E region. In addition, the labour force grew by 19% in the BMW region compared to 14% for the S&E region and the participation rate grew by 6% compared to 3% in the S&E region.
The BMW region has also benefited significantly in terms of infrastructural investment. Up to December 2005, €1.5 billion had been invested in National Roads in the region. Major projects have included the Kinnegad by-pass, the Carrickmacross by-pass, the Ballina/Bohola, the Sligo Inner Relief road, the N5 Strokestown/Longford, the Boyle/Carrick-on-Shannon, and the Ballyshannon/Bundoran. Major road projects under construction or due to begin construction in the Region in 2006 include Kinnegad/Athlone, Monaghan By-Pass, Castleblayney By-Pass, Dromod/Roosky, the Edgeworthstown By-Pass and the Charlestown By-Pass.
In addition more than 26,000 kilometres of non-national roads have been improved, restored or maintained with a total investment of €1.1 billion up to December 2005 in the Region.
Transport 21 announced by the Government late last year is also important in this regard. The Plan, worth €34bn over the period, will build upon the investment made in the current NDP and for the BMW region includes significant investment in developing the Atlantic Corridor road network running from Letterkenny through Sligo, Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford and the re-opening on a phased basis of the Western Rail Corridor, the development of Galway commuter rail services, QBC development for Galway and the extension of the Rural Transport Initiative over the life of the investment plan.
In terms of my own Department, we will continue to promote and maintain living and working populations in rural areas by helping to foster sustainable and culturally vibrant communities there. In that context, my Department's rural development initiatives include:
•the continued implementation of the Clár and LEADER Programmes and the Rural Social Scheme;
•advancing the work of Comhairle Na Tuaithe;
•working in close co-operation with the Department of Agriculture and Food and the EU Commission in the negotiations on the adoption of the draft EU Regulation on Rural Development for the period 2007-2013;
•supporting projects under the Rural Development Fund;
•continuation of cross-border co-operation in rural development;
•participation as appropriate in inter-departmental committees on issues appropriate to rural development, such as the National Spatial Strategy; and
•continued support for the Western Development Commission in the discharge of its functions.
•Development of Waterways Ireland
•Investment in Gaeltacht and islands
I am confident that through the work that is on-going in my own Department and across other areas that the gap between the two regions will continue to close in the coming years.