Updated: 12/02/18 : 05:33:45
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Government rolls into Sligo, with goodies

By Eugene McGloin
Political Editor

THE TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar will this week lead his Government into Sligo town, with goodies on a scale never seen before.

The Cabinet ‘conflab’ on Friday will also formally launch the €115 billion National Development Plan to cover the next decade.

Sligo is now confidently predicted to be promoted as ‘capital’ of the north west, said The Sunday Times in its main story yesterday.

This ‘top tier’ status would confirm recent predictions by Sligo TD, Tony McLoughlin, the Government’s Assistant Whip.

Garda Station

It may be a ‘national’ plan but there will be much focus on big-ticket local items promised by Deputy McLoughlin.

Notable among these will the timeframe for delivery of the new Garda headquarters. 

The building, on the corner of Chapel Street and Teeling Street, has faced multiple significant health and safety issues in recent years.

Gardai stationed there have staged walkouts in recent months while the prosp3dt of a sod-turning on the new Garda HQ in Sligo stays stagnant.

Sligo Garda Station

The other big-ticket items being watched by local politicians includes annual funding shortfalls at Sligo University Hospital, plus service enhancements.

Trauma Care

Three potential service enhancements at the hospital are under watchful waiting this week. 

These include (a) include trauma care — no regional centre has yet been designated — (b) future configurations for maternity services and (c) the much-sought Cath Lab.

The ‘local’ elements of the plan will also test whether Fine Gael can stage any recovery in Sligo politics.

It was all but wiped out in the May 2014 elections to the newly revised Sligo County Council and since then lost a TD.

The party’s sitting councillors were swept aside as it scraped three seats on the new 18 seat Council.

Fine Gael was seen to the forefront of controversy which forced the closure, for a period, of Lissadell and repeatedly misled local electorate on the eastern bridge.

In Sligo’s west and south electoral areas, Fine Gael has a sole representative.

An impression of the completed Eastern Bridge

Street Thriving

The decline of Sligo town over the past 20 years was reinforced by some photos published at the weekend on the History & Heritage Facebook page.

The site, which has 10,000 active members, showed several photos of a once thriving High Street.

Now High Street is pockmarked with premises under threat of collapse, half finished projects and a multi faceted string of closed businesses.

Horse Trading

Meanwhile, the proposed new national plan has been heavily revised and rewritten in recent weeks after reported backbench revolts in the main parties.

Public representatives from across Ireland met in private session in the midlands last week to push for a revised Plan.

RTÉ’s main TV news predicted last night that “horse trading” on the National Plan’s content could continue as late as next Thursday.

The original draft, unpublished, concentrated on ‘upping’ the status of major cities outside Dublin as growth centres over the next decade.

Motorway Uncertainty

As yet, it is uncertain if a motorway will be built between Sligo and Mullingar.

Fianna Fáil TDs raised the issue in the Dail last year and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar appeared to lend Sligo support later during his leadership campaign. See link below.

Some prospective industrialists have given Sligo the ‘thumbs down’ in the absence of motorway, the Dail heard in 2017.

On motorways, the expected new National Plan has already drawn fire, according to The Sunday Times yesterday.

A researcher for the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has criticised proposals to spend €850 million on a Cork to Limerick motorway. 

Such a motorway would undermine the Plan’s objective to create strong regional cities, said researcher Edgar Morgenroth.

The newspaper also suggests the motorway from Mullingar might only be included as far as Longford in the new National Plan.

Not Interested

The case for a Mullingar to Sligo motorway in the Plan was forcefully put by TD Eamon Scanlon in the Dail in May 2017:-

''When I spoke to the IDA, I was told that when it brings people to the north west, those who make decisions are not interested once they reach Mullingar and find there is only a single carriageway road. 

''They are not interested in travelling to Sligo or the north west because of the lack of a proper road structure. 

''Unfortunately, that is the reality. It is not the fault of the IDA either,'' said Scanlon.

He added: ''The people who make decisions on location are company executives. 

“Whatever chance one has with proper infrastructure, one has no chance without it. 

''That is why the Government should reconsider its approach,'' said Scanlon last May.

Population Ages

The Sligo meeting of Cabinet will be held in the Institute of Technology, Ballinode.

The nearby Knocknarea Arena — due to host “American Pie” star Don McLean in June — will be used to launch the National Plan.

It is unclear if interest groups, local or national, plan to picket the Sligo meeting.

Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny faced protests from cancer service campaigners on several visits to Sligo. 

The May 2015 visit to the IT site by Prince Charles, first heir to the UK throne, showed that security has been tried and tested on the sprawling Sligo campus.

 Prince Charles visits IT Sligo in 2015

Meanwhile, interest groups will also watch the new National Plan to see what it proposes as the population ages.

Apart from annual State funding of Sligo University Hospital, other incentives arise as Ireland’s population ages.

These incentives could include the building of retirement villages with services for older citizens and planned spending for several step-down hospitals.

Opening Bid

Finally, Simon Coveney specifically mentioned Sligo as a growth centre in his leadership opening bid, on the hustings in Dublin in May 2017.

 He also argued against Leo Varadkar’s 20 year timeframe for the National Plan.

Coveney was emphatic he wanted the timeframe set at just one decade. 

Link: See Sligo Today 27/5/2017.