I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon. He would agree that if there is one trend to be observed in our country’s economic recovery it is how Dublin-centric it is. The lion’s share of new jobs are in the greater Dublin region and the property market over the last period of time is performing in the same way, which is leading to talk of a two-speed market. With this topical issue, focusing on what is termed the western arc, it is not my intention to follow in the footsteps of others and be overtly critical or to take a swipe at Dublin because it would be advantageous to do so. However, to any observer it is clear that economic recovery is stronger in the capital.
We cannot - nor should citizens be expected to - cram into Dublin and the surrounding counties. According to the latest CSO figures, 50% of the population live in the Leinster area. There is an ignorance, sometimes completely genuine, among residents of the capital of the additional challenges faced by people in rural or semi-rural areas. Limited public transport options, less developed transport infrastructure, additional costs for energy supply and communications and a lack of high-quality broadband Internet services, let alone a choice of service providers, are all additional challenges faced by people outside Dublin and the other urban areas. I regularly meet with businesses in the west and with constituents who outline such problems, which are holding them back.
A web presence is integral to the success of a business, with an increasing amount of business being conducted online. Furthermore, the transition to e-commerce and e-business is lessening the significance of location, meaning a business on the western coast with a high-quality broadband connection can compete successfully with a business in central Dublin. Broadband Internet access is also vital for flexible working options. Recently, a constituent who works from home for part of the week told me he has to drive to the car park of his local GAA club to be able to download some of the documents he requires.
The Government obviously cannot dictate to businesses where they should locate or establish themselves. However, Government can and should take steps to promote a regionally balanced economic recovery. The western arc is a counterbalance to the east and Dublin regions and involves connectivity between five of the six largest cities, Belfast, Derry, Sligo, Galway, Limerick and Cork. It is essential for maximising the total gain from road, rail, air, sea, energy and broadband telecommunications to release the full economic potential of the region.
There must be a realisation that a meaningful economic recovery will not take place until we address regional imbalances in a co-ordinated and strategic way. The lack of co-ordination and strategy is exemplified by the fact that this topical issue falls between the two Departments - those responsible for communications and transport - with each saying the other is responsible. The western arc initiative involves the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources as well as other Government Departments and State organisations such as the Western Development Commission and the Border, Midlands and Western Regional Assembly. They have done much work to promote the region and, rightly, to point out the positives in the region. I ask the Minister to look positively on the western arc proposal as has been outlined. I am sure he is aware of it. He might give us his comments.