Ministers, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.
Earlier this year, in February, we gathered here in Sligo to launch Project Ireland 2040, our ambitious plan for the future of our country.
Today we return to announce the first round of funding for projects under the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund.
The first of four funds which are game-changers in the way we do things.
Project Ireland 2040
Over the next twenty years, the population of Ireland is expected to grow by 1 million people. We want to ensure that this growth is balanced, that all parts of the country share in the nation’s prosperity, and that we do it in a sustainable and climate friendly way.
Project Ireland 2040 is our way to achieve that. It is a plan like no other. Because it represents a radically different approach to planning for our future.
Project Ireland 2040 consists of a national spatial plan that is backed up with real money. The money follows the plan.
It provides for massive increases in investment in our public infrastructure – housing, transport, broadband, education and healthcare.
An investment of €116 billion over ten years to remove bottlenecks, modernize our public services, reduce congestion, and ensure that economic development is brought to all parts of our country and ensure that we have the capacity for future growth.
I know people hearing politicians talking about 10 year plans and 2040 can be sceptical. It sounds like the “long finger” talking. But that’s not the case. Project Ireland 2040 is already being implemented. Next year alone there will be a 25% increase in infrastructure spending and you can already see the results all over the country.
So, what are our objectives? They are a shared set of goals which will deliver benefits to communities across the country.
• compact growth in our villages, towns and cities;
• better accessibility to all parts of the country;
• a strong economy;
• a transition to sustainable energy;
• strong rural communities;
• access to quality childcare, education and health services; and,
• enhanced amenities and heritage.
Imagine the future for Sligo and for this part of the country. Project Ireland 2040 recognises the significant role Sligo plays as a regional growth centre and it will help it develop further.
It means that by 2030 all regions and urban centres, particularly the North West, will be linked to Dublin by a high quality road network. And all parts of Ireland will be linked to each other including Sligo, Galway, Limerick/Shannon and Cork along the Atlantic Economic Corridor.
To achieve this, we are investing in roads infrastructure including the Sligo Western Distributor Road, and other major projects such as the N4 Colooney to Castlebaldwin.
We are investing in healthcare infrastructure. Projects like the redevelopment of Sligo University Hospital, the diabetic centre and interventional radiology department will all help to improve the quality of hospital service for patients in the North West for years to come.
We are investing in education. The Connacht–Ulster Alliance Technological University will greatly enhance the educational opportunities available for students in the North West and offer a new direction in Irish education. It will bring new students into the region, bring more jobs into the region and will spin off new industries. The drain of people to Dublin and overseas will stop or at least go both ways.
From our vantage point in 2030 we will be able to look back on Brexit, and remember how we prepared for its impact. In Project Ireland 2040 we are investing in projects to improve connectivity, cross-border co-operation and standards of living. Whatever happens with Brexit, this strategy will enable Sligo and the North West to thrive.
Building for this future – building the communities of the future -requires input from our communities today.
Government does not have all the answers. It never will. Government works for the people – and it is people who should always drive its objectives.
So we are looking to you - local authorities, businesses, academics, researchers and community groups - to work with us as we find new answers and new ways of doing things.
In May, with my Ministerial colleagues, I launched four game-changing funds - a total investment of €4 billion. Together they represent a new and innovative approach to investment and capital spending in Ireland.
The €500 million Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund will drive collaboration between the research, education and enterprise sectors, and will help create the jobs and wealth of the future.
The €2 billion Urban Regeneration and Development Fund aims to achieve sustainable growth in Ireland’s cities and large urban centres, incentivising collaborative approaches to development by public and private sectors. Unleashing the potential of brownfield sites for city living rather than more suburban sprawl. Growing up not out.
The €500 million Climate Action Fund will focus on innovative projects with a strong focus on emission reduction interventions in the transport sector. Using technological advancements to combat climate change.
And the €1 billion Rural Regeneration and Development Fund - the reason we are here today - will enable towns, villages and outlying rural areas to grow sustainably. It’s all about making Rural Ireland a more attractive place to stay, move into or run a business.
One of the more revolutionary aspects of these Funds is that they are competitive and open to a wide variety of partners. If you have an idea to improve your area, develop new technologies, encourage climate action, you have the opportunity to make a real difference.
Today we are announcing the first round of funding under the Rural Fund with more announcements to come.
I have been struck by the dynamism of the ideas that were submitted. Projects involving heritage, regeneration and the public realm, greenways, telecommunications, tourism, environment, enterprise, and public transport.
Some, however, stood out from the pack and they are the ones being awarded today. They are projects that have significant potential to improve rural Ireland and to do so quickly. They will hit the ground running.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who applied to this, and to all four Funds.
Project Ireland 2040 is our plan.
Today shows how we will work together to achieve it.
It’s just a taste of what’s to come.
So thank you.