The town of Thurles and mid-Tipperary have lost a great number of factories and employers over the past 30 years. All the stakeholders have been making efforts and are working hard to reverse this trend. Only last year we secured the national apprenticeship centre which is located in the town and there are over 250 apprentices based on the site today. Our small and medium enterprises are showing initiative to drive forward despite the difficulties. These include OMC, an engineering company based in Thurles which was founded and driven by mid-Tipperary business people, and Dew Valley Foods, a processing company, which is also a significant employer.
An opportunity now presents itself to Thurles and mid-Tipperary which requires the support of Government and Government policy. Lisheen, just outside Thurles, has been designated as a national research centre for the bioeconomy.
Thanks to the research of Professor Kevin O'Connor and his team at UCD, and the pilot work done by Glanbia, there will be a biorefinery on the site in a relatively short time. This is just the beginning. The research happening at the site has the potential to turn the waste from the agricultural and agrifood industries into high-value, globally traded commodities. The resulting jobs and supports connected to that can be a game changer, not just for Tipperary but for development in rural Ireland as a whole. The energy from the bioeconomy will be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th, and we in Ireland are ideally placed to capitalise on it.
The site at Lisheen is perfect in many ways. It is flat, it has scale, it has high voltage electricity and green energy available and it has a water supply that matches the size of the site. However, one piece of the jigsaw is missing, namely, connection to the national gas network. This can be solved at relatively small cost. If we consider the benefits to the State which I have outlined, it will be an investment that makes a return to the State of a magnitude never before seen. If this final part of the infrastructure was brought to Lisheen, the site would immediately be attractive to the pharmaceutical and food industries, or a mixture of the two. It would fit all the criteria required for a hub for the international data centre industry. It would be a shining example of how to create rural development and could be recreated throughout the country.
If Lisheen was connected to the national gas network, with a bioeconomy focus on the site, it is easy to see the biogas industry being attracted. This could help to achieve the national target of 30% of all gas used in Ireland coming from biogas by 2030. The biogas used at Lisheen could be pulled back into the national gas grid and, given this potential payback, it is easy to justify the investment. The gas network can be connected to the Lisheen site from Cashel in County Tipperary. This would have the added benefit that the shortest route runs adjacent to Thurles, which is the nearest urban centre to the Lisheen site. Lisheen would be the anchor tenant and would justify connecting Thurles in the same way Tipperary Co-op did for connecting Tipperary town, the Goodman factory did for Cahir and Arrabawn did for Nenagh. As Thurles would provide the role of urban support to the fully functioning site, which would ultimately have hundreds of employees, it is only sensible that Thurles be connected to the network as part of this project. That would have the effect of supporting existing industry in the town and would also make the town attractive for new industry of all kinds.
A number of steps must be taken to progress this project. First, a robust feasibility study must be carried out as soon as possible and this study must have input from the Departments of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and Business, Enterprise and Innovation. It must also include input from Tipperary County Council, which is passionate about the project. The study must include all of the aspects of climate change that the project can benefit. This study can be done for €90,000. With the feasibility study done, it will be possible to make an application for funding to Project Ireland 2040 as early as next September.