By Colm Croffy
“I never had a desk job in my life before COVID, and for the past seven months I have been caught between residence, Dáil and desk – so thank you, Senator Dolan, Western Development Commission and BACD for giving me a glorious start to my first day out of the Capital and in the West this year.“
Thus began our Tánaiste, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar, at an early morning briefing in the Ballinasloe Enterprise Centre, bathed in blue sunshine. All held socially distant and outdoors with the national media groupies, camera crew, and officials outnumbering the members of the Board who gave up a sunny morning to have a Karibas supplied breakfast briefing with the Deputy Head of Government. In our summer finery and nervous, the front lawn and building looked resplendent; all spruced up – like for the summer station awaiting the Garda escort.
Tomás Ó Síocháin, CEO of the Western Development Commission (WDC), a key supporter of towns like Ballinasloe and Community Enterprise Development Companies, Chair Seamus Duffy and Manager Lyn Donnelly, Gerry Finn, Chair of the Western Development Commission; were formally introduced to Leo and welcomed to town by Senator Aisling Dolan, who was bursting with pride and enthusiasm in equal measure. He queried the use of the building, and Seamus Duffy and Gerry Finn gave him plenty of background on the site, the stones and modern-day uses. He announced: “It is really great to see what you have been able to do with such an old hospital building.” And with that he was off on the tour of the building, its firms, and employees – nodding, chatting, asking questions and most importantly of all – finding it seems fellow Dubs.
“It was really interesting to meet fellow Dubs in there, one from Clare Hall, the other Lucan, proving today at least that there is a movement of people West as well as East,”
Thirty minutes was allocated for a walkabout, the ice that Marian Canavan from Karibas had cloaked her ice-creams, smoothies, and granola in was under pressure on the veranda. An hour later the Media mob were getting grumpy the podium was set up – OVAL Office like on the Rose lawn but there were no parasols! Tomás from WDC got the official proceedings underway. Leo was visiting the West on a whistle-stop tour organised by the WDC and they and he chose Ballinasloe as it was one of the first new funded Hubs to be uploaded to the Connected Hubs Network, promoting flexible working. As one of the WDC’s and the North-western Regional Commission’s nine Key Towns, Chairman Gerry was keen that his CEO explained to the Tánaiste the ongoing innovative work that the WDC was undertaking in moulding communities in the region to prepare the next influx of entrepreneurs and workers.
Leo was happy to witness the passion of the WDC team and indeed the tenants: “I wish to thank everybody associated with this, the voluntary Board, the Management, the funders of the Community Enterprise Company for the type of partnership and ambition shown to me today. “To see how taxpayers’ money, invested wisely is making a huge positive difference in people’s lives and to see what more investment is needed and how we can support small micro-enterprises. It was great to meet the crew of EG Quest who have grown so big they are moving out to new premises in the town over the coming weeks” he added. An Tánaiste had some significant things to say about his department’s new policy of ‘Making Remote Work,’ in a post-pandemic world where workers would get a choice of remote, home or office-based contracts to blend a better balance to their lives and ease commuter congestion. The National Press Pack were in no mood for his agenda – they had deadlines for the lunchtime news and there was no sign of regulations for indoor dining and weddings. You could hear the collective groan at Creagh Cemetery from all the nonhacks assembled. Scud after scud was lobbed at the man – he had neither note nor teleprompter – he quoted percentages, nuanced NPHET advices, the rows over the housing plan at cabinet, wedding advice, vaccination of teenagers, college return in Sept – it was a masterclass in detail and command of brief.
His personal secretary was bringing the curtain down on the scrum, he was late for the next stop; Jack Treacy ace reporter from this parish dived in with questions to do with the event. Leo smiled, suggesting he was worn out from pandemic punch ups. He waved his aides away, looked into the camera and calmly responded to why we all got up so early and had the bunting out. “This town is so well and centrally connected, with Chanelle moving into the IDA park – which will herald more investment – something I am working with Sen Aishling Dolan on. I think anyone investing or considering moving west would do well to consider Ballinasloe.
Click into our slideshow gallery for all the the action from the day
“I am impressed mostly by the people I met, I really mean it. It has just been amazing to see the diversity of different business types, people in different areas, sales, financial analysts to be in this medium-sized building and to have this diversity of businesses and I think it is a great place for people to start and develop” he enthused. As to BACD having a role in attracting workers and families away from congested urban areas; he was giving us top marks: “Ballinasloe is a really good example for other towns to follow around the country and that is becoming advocates for their town and making the town a better place and telling people what this town has to offer, and this is a town that has a lot to offer. As more people understand that and the message gets out, more interest and development will follow” he gushed. Leo was adamant that there is a strong role for community development companies in helping with the 2040 Spatial Plan: “It can only be done through partnerships involving the local authorities, community development companies, and it involves the private sector as well - crucially.”
With that, he headed for a smoothie, and we all got to enjoy the business brekkie with the Tánaiste in the sun before he sped further West with a spring in his step!
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