630 new full-time jobs were created in Údarás na Gaeltachta client companies in 2017. This culminated in a net increase of 155 jobs on the previous year, which means that there were 7,503 full-time and 606 part-time jobs in companies in receipt of support from Údarás at year end. There has been a steady increase on the employment base in the Gaeltacht for five consecutive years as Gaeltacht companies become increasingly stable.
2017 was an historic year in terms of language planning, where the Gaeltacht communities’ dedication and efforts bore fruit as the first three language plans were approved during the year. Five further language plans have been submitted to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Employment in the Gaeltacht
There was an increase in employment supported by Údarás na Gaeltachta in every Gaeltacht county in 2017. This is the first time since 1996 that there was in increase in every county in any one year. Employment in Gaeltacht areas has recovered somewhat but significant challenges lie ahead of certain areas as has been reported during the year. An tÚdarás has shown that certain progress can be achieved with small increases in budget and an tÚdarás believes that we have the appropriate strategies to make significant progress in coming years if the appropriate budgets are made available.
Employment stability with marginal increases was evident in all counties except Donegal, where there was a significant increase of 103 jobs in 2017. Údarás na Gaeltachta has placed a particular focus on Donegal in recent years, due to the large number of jobs lost in the county in 2014 and, for the most part, the results of that investment are now evident in certain parts of the county. Over the past three years 242 additional people have been working in Údarás-supported jobs in the county and companies in the Donegal Gaeltacht are also currently recruiting.
In general, it is a source of encouragement that the employment base in Gaeltacht companies is now at a consistent level and at its highest level since 2008. This is the fifth year in a row that the Gaeltacht employment base has increased, where there were four years of decline prior to that. During the year, 25 new companies were created in the Gaeltacht during the year; there was in excess of fifty people employed in these at the end of the year.
This year’s figures show that the food & drink, services, medical device and traditional manufacturing sectors reflected the highest net increase in employment levels, although these sectors did not avoid some job losses. The highest net loss in employment levels was seen in the filming/television, fish farming/processing and data processing sectors.
Údarás na Gaeltachta client companies have a significant economic impact on the Gaeltacht and the national economy. According to ABSEI research conducted in 2017, it is estimated that client- company total sales were in the region of €844m the previous year and that direct expenditure in the Irish economy was €425m. This reflects the fact that the state is getting good value for its investment in employment in the Gaeltacht. In addition, during the past year Údarás na Gaeltachta continued with a number of strategic investments in new infrastructural facilities which will upgrade some sections of our property portfolio to a standard which will help attract new projects and employment in the future.
Údarás na Gaeltachta Chief Executive, Mícheál Ó hÉanaigh, said, “We are very happy with the level of job creation this year in the context of our current resources and that we managed to double our net increase in employment since last year. It is a huge boost for us to see that our development strategies have been a success and therefore that we are achieving our employment targets. We will be implementing our new strategy over the next three years and we are very happy to add to the organisation’s positive results and consequently support the sustainable development of the Gaeltacht. We always welcome new businesses, both large and small, which will contribute to strengthening the employment base in rural Gaeltacht areas.”
The Chief Executive also acknowledged the spirit and dedication of Gaeltacht communities: “Gaeltacht areas are at a critical juncture at the moment, where they have significant linguistic and socio-economic challenges to surmount. Údarás na Gaeltachta is satisfied that we have the appropriate strategies to ensure that the national economic recovery being referred to will be realised and with the proper resources we will facilitate Gaeltacht areas in growing, developing and flourishing as vibrant language communities. We will place a strong emphasis in the years ahead on developing the natural and human resources of the Gaeltacht for the benefit of the communities that we serve.”
The Government Chief Whip and Minister of State at the Department of Culture with responsibility for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Joe McHugh TD, commented, “The results announced by Údarás na Gaeltachta today are very positive for the Gaeltacht. It is noteworthy and encouraging that results show a stable level of employment is emerging and that there are green shoots to be seen also with 25 new companies having commenced trading with the support of Údarás in 2017 and 57 jobs created in those businesses. I am certain that, with the appointment of the new board of Údarás recently that every effort will be made so that the ongoing progress Údarás is making will continue.
The Gaeltacht communities and An tÚdarás must be applauded for the immense work undertaken by them in creating language plans for their communities in the past year. This work is very important in the context of the aims of the 20 year Strategy for the Irish language as it pertains to the Gaeltacht. I am very pleased that Údarás ensured in 2017 that the process was underway in each of the 26 Gaeltacht Language Planning Areas (LPA) and that it is consistently prioritised as appropriate.”
Economic impact of Údarás na Gaeltachta client companies
Údarás na Gaeltachta client companies generate expenditure of €425 million, which flows directly into the national economy, on payroll, services and raw materials. In 2016, client companies had a payroll of €181 million, with an average salary of €41,000 per employee in companies with ten or more employees. Figures from ABSEI research conducted in 2017 show that Údarás na Gaeltachta client companies had aggregated total sales of €844 million the previous year. €502 million of sales consisted of exports, an export-sales ratio of 60%. It is significant that 20% of total sales are attributed to the Food & Drinks industry and that 40% of medical products are exported to Asia.
471 new jobs approved for the Gaeltacht in 2017
Last year, Údarás na Gaeltachta approved a series of new projects which will create 471 jobs, in which an estimated total of €28 million will be invested as they are developed over the next few years. The majority of job approvals during 2017 were for projects in Counties Galway, Donegal and Cork, with significant approvals for Counties Kerry and Mayo also. Companies in the medical device, food, services and niche manufacturing sectors continue to grow and develop.
Social Employment Schemes
There was an increase of 72 in the number of participants on Social Employment Schemes in the Gaeltacht during 2017, with 1,048 participants and 50 supervisors employed throughout the Gaeltacht. In 2017 a total of 412 new participants were placed on these schemes and 340 participants completed their scheme period. Social employment schemes (Community Employment Scheme, Rural Social Scheme & TÚS Scheme), managed by An tÚdarás play an important role in providing work experience and training for the Gaeltacht community.
Brexit Challenges and International Policies
There is no escaping the fact that Brexit may well be one of the biggest challenges Gaeltacht companies will face in the years ahead. It is generally estimated, as details of the process become clearer, that this huge political change will affect every business and citizen on this island. The United Kingdom is generally the first port of call when a company begins exporting for the first time. According to this year’s updated ABSEI research, almost 30%, which is estimated at €147 million, of our client companies’ export sales go to both the United Kingdom and the European Union. There will be implications also for company running costs, as 60% of raw materials worth €227m, are imported.
Údarás na Gaeltachta has carried out significant work individually and directly with the client companies who will be most affected by Brexit to ensure that they undertake strategic planning and to ensure that their business is as competitive and ‘lean’ as possible. Údarás na Gaeltachta is cooperating with other State agencies as part of a coordinated response to international affairs in 2018 and will continue to administer our Brexit support and consultancy scheme, ‘Bí Réidh’, for our client companies.
The majority of exports by Údarás client companies to the UK are in Wood/Timber products, which account for 23%, paper 16%, basic & fabricated metal 13%, and food/drink 12%. The biggest exports to the European Union are products in the marine, food/drink, computer products and medical device sectors. Údarás na Gaeltachta client companies have significant sales (25% of export sales) in North America also and these will be monitored closely to assess the effects of any political or policy changes.
Language Planning Activities
Language planning activities were underway in each of the 26 Language Planning Areas (LPA) for the first time in 2017. Not only had 18 communities begun the language planning process at the beginning of the year, preparations began in five other LPAs and one Gaeltacht Service Town during the year. These were Cléire LPA, Maigh Eo Thiar LPA, Na Rosa LPA, Maigh Cuilinn LPA and An Ghaeltacht Lár LPA. A language plan was being prepared for Daingean Uí Chúis, which is listed as one of the 16 towns which may be recognised as a Gaeltacht Service Town when a language plan has been approved for those towns.
A series of public meetings was held in the three LPAs surrounding Galway City, which were well attended, and applications were sought from lead organisations to prepare language plans for these areas. The applications have since been assessed and a recommendation will be submitted to the Board of Údarás na Gaeltachta shortly to allow for the next steps in the process to be taken.
An historic event took place in Amharclann Ghaoth Dobhair, when the Government Chief Whip and the Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeilge, the Gaeltacht and the Islands announced that the first three language plans, which had been prepared as part of the process, had now been approved. These language plans were for the Iar-Thuaisceart Dhún na nGall LPA, Cois Fharraige LPA and Cloich Cheann Fhaola LPA. Five other LPAs: Na Déise LPA, An Cheathrú Rua LPA, Dúiche Sheoigheach/Tuar Mhic Éadaigh LPA and Ciarraí Theas LPA were also submitted to the Department for approval during the year. All of these plans are expected to be approved in the first quarter of 2018. Due to the considerable progress made in the language planning process and an increasing number of plans reaching the implementation stage, budgetary provision increased for 2018.
Údarás na Gaeltachta Chairperson, Anna Ní Ghallachair said, “The commitment shown by Gaeltacht communities in preparing language plans for the areas has given us a great sense of hope and encouragement, and this work is still ongoing in many areas. The most important step of the process will be taken in 2018, when the implementation of the plans begins in communities throughout the Gaeltacht.
She added, “The sustainable development of the Gaeltacht, the Gaeltacht islands and the fostering and maintenance of vibrant Irish language communities is our main objective and focus, and this will guide the organisation in our policies and decisions over the next five years.”
Gréasán Digiteach na Gaeltachta (Gaeltacht Digital Network)
Údarás na Gaeltachta opened Digital and Innovation Hubs in Gaoth Dobhair and Béal an Mhuirthead in 2017, and, in conjunction with other partners, a further digital hub opened in Daingean Uí Chúis. The hubs are part of Údarás na Gaeltachta’s strategy to establish Gréasán Digiteach na Gaeltachta (Gaeltacht Digital Network) when hubs are developed in 30 locations throughout the Gaeltacht, including on seven Gaeltacht islands and six non-Gaeltacht islands to support the sustainability of these communities and off-shore islands. These hubs will include innovation units with office space with high speed internet access as well as an incubation hub and innovation facilities.
Vision for 2020
Údarás na Gaeltachta’s strategy for the 2018 – 2020 period is based on two main principles: maintenance and development of the Irish language and the fostering of Innovation & Employment with a view to enabling Irish speakers to live in the Gaeltacht. These principles are at the core of the organisation’s strategy; every effort will be made to create the appropriate circumstances to assist in ensuring that the Irish language will be the main community language in the Gaeltacht, a place which will attract ordinary people, entrepreneurs and visitors to live and work there.
Furthermore, resources for language, communities and culture will continue to be supported and developed, and innovation and enterprise will continue to be encouraged and fostered. We will focus on research programmes and projects to cultivate innovation and enterprise as drivers of the development programme. An tÚdarás believes that there are significant opportunities here for all the Gaeltacht areas so long as the appropriate resources are provided to implement its strategy in its entirety.
Fóram Fiontraíochta Ghaoth Dobhair, which is heading towards completion, and the Interagency Taskforce for the Uíbh Ráthach Gaeltacht which is in its infancy, will focus on developing enterprise and increasing employment opportunities, while best utilising all of the available resources.
Fóram Fiontraíochta Ghaeltacht na Mí (Enterprise Forum for the Meath Gaeltacht) was established at the end of 2017 to place a new focus on the enterprise development opportunities in this area and to utilise its proximity to Dublin.
The Language Planning Process will continue and every possible support will be provided to the communities at various stages of the process in preparing language plans or implementing them in their areas. The language planning process will play a pivotal role at this critical juncture in the maintenance and development of the Irish language as the daily community language of the Gaeltacht.
Gréasán Digiteach na Gaeltachta (Gaeltacht Digital Network) is at the heart of the organisation’s strategy and will provide 30 innovation units with high speed broadband connectivity and provide new technology companies starting out or wishing to locate in the rural areas which encompass the Gaeltacht with many opportunities.
These developments will give the Gaeltacht community an opportunity to return home and stay at home through remote working opportunities at offices or hot desks. As a result, the Diaspóra na Gaeltachta project will form a central part of Údarás na Gaeltachta’s strategy to encourage the emigrant Gaeltacht community abroad or in Ireland to return home to their families and communities and, thereby, bolster the Irish language. We will make them aware of the employment, living, social, language and cultural opportunities available in the Gaeltacht areas and provide them with any information, advice and support they may need when choosing to return home.
The development of renewable energy projects, natural resources and enterprises based on natural resources are central to the organisation’s strategy. Planning work for Páirc na Mara, a marine innovation park in Cill Chiaráin in Conamara has begun and we look forward to bringing to fruition this strategic marine project which will include research and business activities. Údarás na Gaeltachta has mobilised other strategic partners to draw up plans on a cooperative basis to enable us to develop this modern marine innovation park to promote growth in the industry and to facilitate economic growth in the area, and, as a result, provide productive employment for future generations in this rural Gaeltacht area. It is envisaged that Páirc na Mara will be an important facilitator for the entire marine industry not only in Cill Chiaráin and Conamara but at a regional and national level also.
Údarás na Gaeltachta’s stated ambition is ‘that the Gaeltacht is developed as a tourist destination, which is recognised internationally as a unique area where our natural resources, our language, culture, environment and heritage, are celebrated and developed.’ As a result, in early 2018 an tÚdarás will announce strategic tourism projects, which will be supported by the Tourism Management Development Scheme, an initiative to support the management development of strategic tourism projects, operational on a two-year, pilot basis.
As has already been stated, Údarás na Gaeltachta’s main aim is to preserve and strengthen the Irish language by developing the Gaeltacht, and to inspire and strengthen indigenous, confident Gaeltacht communities. Údarás na Gaeltachta has strategic responsibilities and duties to the Gaeltacht and has adopted an integrated approach with regard to the development of the Gaeltacht. An tÚdarás is in a unique position to undertake a leading role in furthering the development and expansion of the Irish language as a community language and to drive the integrated economic, social and cultural development of the Gaeltacht, commensurate with the resources at its disposal.