I brought all of this ordeal on myself because I deliberately made it public that I had asked former Minister of State Michael Ring not to consider me for reappointment to the position of chairman of the Western Development Commission, WDC. I did it deliberately because I wanted to draw attention to my perception of the situation, which is and was that the problems of rural Ireland and balanced regional development do not rate highly at all, at any level. I did not expect, however, a serious and constructive response from the Chairman of this committee. I thank him for inviting me here to make this presentation. Regardless of its being an ordeal for me, it is worthwhile putting it forward. It is also difficult for me because I am a personal friend of the previous Taoiseach and would not want what I say to damage our personal relationship, whatever about our political relationship.
I read the instructions or protocols on making a presentation here. They require me to make a written submission, which I have done. I hope members have had an opportunity to read it. The protocols also state I can make an oral presentation, which is what I am doing now, and it is stated I must avoid repetition and confine my remarks to a maximum of five minutes. I do not intend to be anywhere close to five minutes. I am not sure how I can avoid repetition because the whole matter can all be summarised in the sentence that the WDC is a very powerful organisation with tremendous potential. I do not believe it has been taken seriously. I used an analogy recently that I hope is not taken as being too facile. As chairman, I was presented with a very powerful car but I never found out whether I could drive it because we were never given the keys or petrol. We were never empowered to make use of the power of the organisation.
There is an improvement over the previous time I had to come here, which was when I was being proposed for my position. There was only one member of the committee present for that meeting. A chairman had to be found somewhere. Back then, the status of the WDC was not taken very seriously and I am glad that has improved here.
It is fortunate we are to have a Minister for rural affairs. I do not know whether I should take any credit for it or not. There is no harm in taking credit; we all do it sometimes. I do not know whether I could claim to have had some impact on the thinking. I would like to think so but I do not believe that is the case. To be serious about it, I welcome the appointment of the Minister, Deputy Michael Ring. He is the ideal man for the job and I wish him well. I hope he does very well.
The submission I made has outlined for members some of the details of what the WDC feels it has achieved over the years. Let me mention a few points briefly. The Western Investment Fund has invested €48 million. Grants or funds were provided to it of €34 million, which became €48 million. No moneys are coming to it now because it is a self-financing fund. Some €3 million per annum is available from the revolving element of the fund. It has not been responsible for but involved in the creation of 2,200 jobs. I am told that if a multiplier effect is applied to that, it could equate to 5,000 jobs, which is very substantial in the region. The PAYE take from people employed in companies assisted by the WDC in 2014 and 2015 was €17 million. I do not know whether the Chairman would like me to go through other achievements and publications. They are in an appendix that I circulated. One can see publications on natural gas, renewable energy, broadband, rail, international air access and the creative economy. We have developed a website called www.lookwest.ie, which has won awards against companies such as Guinness and ESB. It is a very successful website that promotes the west. It was run by the WDC.
One might assume from the attainment of all those achievements that neither I nor anybody else would give out about the priority being given to the WDC. The GDP for the region is only 85% of the EU average. The same figure for Ireland is 130%. Statistics for 2014 show that regional GDP per person in the west was 76% of that in the State overall. There is much slower job recovery in the west, at just 2.8%, which is less than half that in the rest of the State, at 6.3%. There is higher youth unemployment in the west among those between 15 and 24. The rate is 30.8%, substantially higher than the 20% in the rest of State.
I was involved in voluntary community work all my life. I took on the job with great enthusiasm and excitement because I was aware that the people working there are excellent. It is a small bunch of very committed people. I thought we would make great progress. Instead, there was no board in place for three months very soon after my appointment, from February 2014 to May 2014. One might have believed this would be a once-off and would not be repeated but the fact is that there has been no board in place since February. Therefore, an even longer period has elapsed this time.
The non-pay allocation for staff was reduced from €1.5 million in 2008 to €0.5 million in 2015, a decrease of 66%. The staff number has fallen from 17 to 11, a decrease of 35%. The CEO position has been vacant for a total of five years, from 2011 to the present. There is no great indication of any great commitment to the organisation.
Through my relationship with the former Taoiseach, we had a meeting with his economic adviser, a man called Mr. Andrew McDowell. I am not supposed to mention names; I am sorry. Do I withdraw that?