A total of 1,038 new jobs were created in 2007. Significant progress was made in job creation in various sectors, particularly in the services and modern manufacturing sectors, notwithstanding the changed economic climate in the latter half of 2007.
Total employment in Údarás na Gaeltachta assisted companies is now 8,026, and means that overall employment is in excess of 8,000 for the first time since 2001, when the decline of the traditional manufacturing sector in the Gaeltacht intensified.
The employment figures, which are in line with the national trend, indicate continued employment growth in the services sector but an ongoing decline in the traditional manufacturing sector. A notable aspect of this year’s figures is the growth in the modern manufacturing sector, an indication that the Údarás’ strategy of focusing on niche manufacturing is making good progress, and gives hope for further development in this area in the future.
This growth is apparent in the lifesciences industry such as the pharmaceutical, biomedical and medical devices sectors and also in the specialised-products manufacturing sector.
Competitiveness and Sustaining Employment
Competitiveness in national and international markets intensified during the year. Unsettled financial markets created difficulties for a number of Gaeltacht companies and others were under pressure due to the Euro/Dollar exchange rate. Research and development assistance in addition to other supports was provided to companies to assist them to strengthen their competitiveness and thereby sustain jobs. Additional emphasis must still be placed on aftercare support as a tool for strengthening companies, maintaining and increasing job numbers, and, in the case of companies that are under severe market pressures, to keep job losses to a minimum.
When jobs losses (965) for 2007 are taken into account, there was an overall net gain of 73 new jobs.
A Challenging Year Ahead
We are facing a challenging year ahead taking it into consideration the global economic climate, the impact of the Euro/Dollar exchange rate on certain companies and the effects of the credit squeeze on some Údarás client companies. It will be a major challenge for us to meet the development and employment targets set out for us, but the level of business enquiries and projects in the pipeline for the first quarter of 2008 are positive indicators. An tÚdarás hopes to build on this base in the coming months and to combat intense competition for new investment, additional marketing initiatives are being planned. On the ground, particular emphasis will be placed on the lesser developed areas where we have high quality industrial space available. There will be continued emphasis on small to medium sized indigenous businesses in a wide spectrum of sectors including niche manufacturing, internationally traded services and natural resources.
The Aquaculture Sector
After a number of difficult years, there are indications that the aquaculture and fish processing industry is recovering due to progress made in the farming of organic salmon and the substantial investment made by Údarás to revive this sector in recent years. National policies and the implementation of the recommendations outlined in the Cawley report will ensure substantial government and European Union investment in this sector in the coming years. An tÚdarás has an active role in implementing these recommendations in collaboration with other state stakeholders with responsibility for marine development. Significant progress has been made in a number of innovative aquaculture projects in association with the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) through the Martin Ryan Institute centre in Carna. This includes the farming of organic cod, the growing of ornamental fish, research on crawfish, and the development of a marine innovation centre in the area. Discussions are ongoing in relation to increasing the level of research and commercialisation initiatives on this site in the coming years.
Business Infrastructure – A platform for future development
An tÚdarás recognises the need to work progressively to lay the foundations for future developments so that adequate provision of work space, physical infrastructure, broadband and a strong skills pool are available as a basis for generating local businesses and for attracting external investment to the Gaeltacht.
In 2007, Údarás continued its policy of developing business centres for modern services, enterprise units and multifunctional centres throughout the Gaeltacht. The main initiatives were:
– the commencement of the first phase of Áislann Ghaoth Dobhair – an €8.8m multifunctional enterprise and innovation centre on the Gaoth Dobhair Business Park in conjunction with Donegal County Council and other partners;
– the development of a modern services centre, Ionad Seirbhísí na nOileán, in Tír an Fhia, Connemara at a cost of €2m;
– the appointment of architectural consultants to formulate plans for the first stage of the development of the Coláiste Íosagáin complex in Baile Bhúirne, Co. Cork. Planning permission will be sought in 2008;
– the redevelopment of Ionad Oidhreachta Árann, the Aran heritage and tourism centre at a cost of €1.5m;
– the completion of a 450 seat Theatre at Ionad Cois Locha, Dún Lúiche, Co. Donegal at an overall cost of €2.1m with funding from Údarás na Gaeltachta, Fáilte Éireann and other agencies;
– the opening of a customer contact centre at the Gaoth Dobhair Business Park;
– the commencement of the development of a €1.1m marine and tourism services centre at Machaire Rabhartaigh Pier in Co. Donegal;
– the commencement of the development of a new multifunctional centre at An Tearmann in Co. Donegal in which a total of €2.6m is being invested by Údarás and other agencies;
– the opening of an enterprise centre and the provision of office facilities for Comharchumann Forbartha Árann, the island co-op on Inis Mór, Aran Islands, at a cost of €1.2m;
– planning permission was sought for a new enterprise centre on Oileán Chléire, Co. Cork;
– the submission of plans to Waterford County Council for a new multipurpose Services and Enterprise Centre in An Rinn, Co. Waterford;
– the awarding of a contract for the development of a €1.6m multifunctional services and enterprise centre on the Carna Industrial Estate, Co. Galway.
Telecommunications Infrastructure Development
Taking into account the rural and geographical location of the Gaeltacht regions, including seven offshore islands, the lack of broadband services in many Gaeltacht areas in which Údarás is endeavouring to establish business enterprises, continues to be a major cause of frustration.
The agency continues to lobby for the provision of broadband services throughout the Gaeltacht. Approximately 65% of the Gaeltacht regions currently have some level of connectivity but the quality of service is deficient in some regions and there is no provision in others. In 2007, two Gaeltacht exchanges were upgraded to DSL capacity (An Rinn in Waterford and Baile na Finne in Donegal) and Corr na Móna and Inis Mór, Árainn, Co. Galway are due to be upgraded in 2008. The remaining Gaeltacht areas are to be included in the National Broadband Project proposed by the Department of Communications and Natural Resources, which is currently going through a tendering process. Service providers are expected to be appointed by mid 2008 and the project is expected to be completed by the end of 2009.
Discussions have been ongoing for some time with the National University of Ireland, Galway and HEA NET regarding the provision of high speed broadband connectivity at seven Gaeltacht sites where Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge, NUIG has outreach campuses – Gaoth Dobhair, in Donegal and Carna, An Cheathrú Rua and Indreabhán in Galway. This project has gone through the tendering process and is expected to be implemented in the first half of 2008.
A broadband network is to be provided in the Donegal Gaeltacht via the CNS project, a cross-border partnership funded primarily by the Interreg IIIA programme and the International Fund for Ireland. An tÚdarás has approved support funding for the project which will cover the Gleann Cholm Cille, Na Rosa, Gort a’ Choirce, An Fál Carrach and Na Dúnaibh areas. The contract is currently being discussed with a service provider and the project is expected to be completed by mid 2008.
Roads and Harbours
Physical infrastructure is key to a wide range of business and industrial developments that depend on transportation services. Poor infrastructure and traffic bottlenecks add to the cost of business and to the travel discomfort of workers, tourists and the general public. An tÚdarás has, over the years, repeatedly emphasised the importance of upgrading infrastructure in Gaeltacht regions so as to facilitate the attraction of investment. Most Gaeltacht roads have been significantly upgraded in recent years but this important work must be intensified and completed.
Some significant infrastructural projects, which will have a substantial positive impact throughout the regions where they are to be developed, must be proceeded with as a matter of urgency.
Harbours on all three of the Aran islands are currently being developed and improved, thus ensuring a significant contribution to underpinning the sustainability of these islands in the future. The integrated development of Ros an Mhíl harbour is of the utmost importance, as is the need for the relevant authorities to proactively progress the planning and development of the proposed new road from Galway to Scríob. An tÚdarás believes these major infrastructural projects will create new significant development opportunities that cannot otherwise be generated in the Connemara Gaeltacht and on the Aran Islands.
The Irish Language
It’s clear from the evidence on the ground that the Irish language is now at a critical and fragile stage as a community language in the Gaeltacht. The publication by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in November 2007 of a Socio-Linguistic Study on the use of Irish in the Gaeltacht starkly illustrates the challenges we face. An tÚdarás particularly welcomes the government’s decision to establish a Cabinet Committee to formulate an integrated action plan within a year with the aim of securing the future of Irish as a community language in the Gaeltacht. The study’s conclusions and recommendations are currently being examined by Údarás and the agency’s response will be forwarded to the Department of Rural, Community and Gaeltachta Affairs within the next few months.
An tÚdarás has established 31 language learning centres throughout the Gaeltacht and the first European Certificates in Irish were awarded to course participants in the Gaeltacht during 2007. These courses, developed by The Languages Centre, Maynooth University, are graded and suitable for all levels of ability. The European Irish Language Certificate is the only accredited certificate available to those learning Irish.
Last year, in excess of 1,200 adults attended Irish courses funded by an tÚdarás throughout the Gaeltacht, 80% of them being participants of European Irish Language Certificate courses. As part of the Údarás’ language planning strategy, the organisation, in conjunction with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht affairs, commissioned a survey on Gaeltacht communities’ language requirements. To date, the survey has been carried out in twenty Gaeltacht communities and the results are currently being analysed by a sociolinguistic expert. When the results and conclusions of the survey are available, communities will be assisted with the development and implementation of language action plans based on each community’s specific needs.
Third Level Education Provision through Irish
The development of third level education through Irish is a core element of Údarás na Gaeltachta’s strategy to ensure a highly skilled workforce is available in the Gaeltacht and as a basis for sourcing and developing young Gaeltacht entrepreneurs. It also ensures that access to third level education through Irish is available in the Gaeltacht. The initiative is having a very positive linguistic and socioeconomic impact on the communities where the centres and courses are located. In addition, high quality employment is being provided in these centres.
There has been a significant increase in third level education provision through Irish and the number of third level accredited courses in the Gaeltacht in recent years. During the 2007/2008 academic year, there are approximately 500 students attending accredited full-time and part-time courses – including diplomas, higher diplomas, degrees and post-graduate degrees. The majority of the courses are being run by Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge, National University of Ireland, Galway in outreach centres in An Cheathrú Rua, Carna, and Gaoth Dobhair. In addition, courses are being delivered by other institutions, including Waterford Institute of Technology in association with Nemeton in An Rinn, Galway/Mayo Institute of Technology in association with Europus Teo, and the University of Ulster in Donegal.
Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge NUIG, in association with Comharchumann Forbartha Chorca Dhuibhne is planning to develop another centre in Baile na Fhirtéaraigh, Co. Kerry on a site being purchased by Údarás na Gaeltachta specifically for that purpose. Planning permission for this development is expected to be submitted to Kerry County Council in the next few months.
An tÚdarás has a provision of almost €5m for the promotion of third level education through Irish and third level accredited courses during the current year.
An tÚdarás adopted a new approach to the development of cultural tourism in 2007. The Gaelsaoire brand name was maintained as a marketing tool but emphasis is now on four main aspects – the provision of marketing support for tourism services and product providers; collaborative marketing packages; support for local festivals with growth potential; and the development of six major flagship projects over a three year period. In addition, local development organisations in receipt of administration grants from Údarás – co-operatives and community based groups – are being encouraged to develop and improve local amenities such as walks, picnic areas, signage and information services. This approach will be further intensified during 2008.
There are three working groups currently concentrating on the development of specific tourism projects. These are representative of an tÚdarás, Local Authorities, the Office of Public Works and local organisations. The projects include Ionad an Phiarsaigh in Ros Muc in Connemara, the Ionad Oidhreachta Árann tourism centre on Inis Mór, Aran Islands, and Sliabh a’ Liag visitor centre in south west Donegal. Preliminary discussions have taken place in relation to the development of Ionad Oidhreachta an Riadaigh heritage centre in the Muscraí Gaeltacht in Cork.
An tÚdarás owns 224,000 square metres of industrial space. A total of 77% is occupied by business or industrial tenants, 9% is in poor condition and requires upgrading, 6% has already been committed to new prospective tenants and 8% is currently available for new industry/businesses.
The total exchequer funding granted to Údarás na Gaeltachta for 2008 is €40m.