I welcome the witnesses. Like the Chair, I laud the work of the shared island unit. I have had the opportunity to engage with officials other than Ms O'Donoghue and Mr. Duffy. They have been very receptive of the ideas I and others have put forward. I am very glad there is buy-in throughout all of the island to the shared island concept. It was met with cynicism in some areas when the Taoiseach initially announced it. There is now good buy-in throughout the island, and this is welcome.
I also welcome the substantive chapter in the NDP to which Ms O'Donoghue referred, with its overall commitment of €3.5 billion for all-Ireland investment. The Taoiseach mentioned the initial €500 million committed to the shared island project would be doubled to €1 billion over the lifetime of the NDP. This is very important. As the Chair said and as Ms O'Donoghue said, it is important that we have more intense political engagement with the unit as it drives forward its work.
It was at a previous meeting with the witnesses that I was very strong on the need to engage with the local authority cross-Border groups that represent local authorities on both sides of the Border. There has been intense collaboration and I welcome this. There is one thing I would caution on. We have to be mindful that it is the individual local authorities that have the statutory remit.
These cross-Border groupings do not have statutory functions. It will be important that the shared island unit engages directly with individual local authorities. This is because local authorities can often be in a position to help to drive forward projects through their own funding resources, as well as collaborating with the unit. It is essential to have good buy-in, collaboration and intense work with the local authorities on an individual basis.
I appeal, as I did at each of the engagements that we had with the shared island unit, as well as in direct questions to An Taoiseach in the Dáil, that particular emphasis needs to be placed on the less-developed parts of the Border region. I am thinking of my own area of Cavan, Monaghan, Fermanagh and south Tyrone. It is understood that the Dublin to Belfast corridor will look after itself, no matter what particular economic challenges come. However, we will not have the major research centres and third level education in small villages or towns in west Cavan, north Monaghan, or west Fermanagh. A particular emphasis needs to be placed on the economic and social needs of the less-developed regions.
Ms O’Donoghue mentioned “enhancing support for enterprise on an all-island basis”. I welcome that particular development. That aspect of her work is new to my knowledge. Over the years, and particularly in the years of the Troubles, when it was particularly difficult to bring jobs to Border regions, local authorities and community groups sourced funding to develop workspace and enterprise centres. There are some instances in my constituency where companies started out as a one-person operation. Some of them are international companies today. Were it not for the fact that workspace was provided to allow them to grow to ten and 20 jobs, they would not have been the success that they are. I know that often there is funding at national level to develop enterprise centres which community groups or local authorities can source. Often, however, the big problem is putting the site in place and servicing it to enable it to get to the stage where one can build the workspace. Local authorities, such as my own in Cavan and Monaghan, have a very small rates base. They find get it hard to generate funding at local level. They are trying to support other developments, such as town and rural renewal and tourism developments. There is a need to support local authorities to make available suitable sites that are serviced to enable workspaces and enterprise sectors to be developed. That will lead to job creation.
Any audit or analysis of our network of enterprise centres throughout the country would show a great success record. They have enabled the creation of employment and have facilitated small companies to grow, to move out of that space and to allow for new, emerging companies to take over. That might be one new area that the shared island unit could look at. It could look at supporting local authorities and community groups to put in place serviced sites to enable enterprise workspace to be developed.
Another thing that was mentioned was the further development of third level education infrastructure in the northwest. Again, I welcome that. However, I would also like to see the north east included in the remit of that work. I know from my engagement with Dundalk Institute of Technology, DkIT, over the years that it is a particularly important institute for education for persons from Louth, Monaghan and Cavan, as well as from Armagh and Down. Ever before there was much collaboration in higher education on an all-island and North-South basis, DkIT was collaborating with Queen’s University Belfast and with the University of Ulster on major projects. I would like to see an emphasis on the northeast, particularly on Dundalk and local authorities and colleges of further education in Louth, Monaghan and Cavan as well.
Ms O’Donoghue spoke about “the further development of third level education”. Again, we have to include further education in that particular work. As public representatives, we all know that in many instances attracting people from communities where there is a lot of disadvantage has come through further and higher education and the availability of places to progress through. I place particular emphasis on it. I hope it can be considered in the context of development of further education on a cross-Border and all-Ireland basis as well.