The Programme for a Partnership Government committed to both strengthening the role of the Western Development Commission (WDC) and to developing the Atlantic Economic Corridor initiative. As the Programme for Government has been implemented, my Department has built on the synergies between these two objectives.
My Department has been working with Board and Chief Executive of the WDC to establish the agency as a valued enabler of the Government’s regional development objectives under Project Ireland 2040. The WDC's role in this regard is reflected in the agency's new 5-year Strategy which was published recently.
The AEC initiative aims to maximise the assets of the region from Kerry to Donegal and to better utilise the economic hubs, clusters and catchments of the area to attract investment, support job creation and contribute to an improved quality of life for people who live in the region.
The Atlantic Economic Corridor Taskforce was established in March 2017 to oversee the initiative. The Taskforce, which I now chair, includes representatives of key public and private sector stakeholders, including the WDC.
In December 2018, I requested the WDC to take on the role of Co-ordinating body for the AEC initiative. Since then, the WDC has been transitioning into this role, by providing a secretariat function to the AEC Taskforce subgroups, supporting the work of the AEC Officers who have been appointed by the Local Authorities along the Corridor, and by assisting my Department in identifying and developing projects to support the goals of the AEC initiative.
A significant project in this regard is the development of an AEC-wide ‘Hub Network’. Preliminary data indicates that there is a sizable number of Enterprise Hubs, Digital Hubs and other Hubs in the AEC area. The WDC, in collaboration with my Department and other key stakeholders, will develop an strategy to co-ordinate the activities of these hubs and better align the services they provide. I have allocated €1 million from the Dormant Accounts Fund to support this project, which will place a focus on enabling disadvantaged people and communities to utilize the hub space.
It is envisaged that this co-ordinated ‘Hub Network’ will also serve as a critical asset to support business development, encourage innovation and to attract investment to the AEC region.
The WDC's 5 year strategy commits the agency to supporting the AEC initiative as a flagship project. I am confident that the talent, regional knowledge and enthusiasm which the Board and staff of the WDC bring to the AEC initiative will be immensely valuable going forward.