Will there be apples for everyone in Athenry?

Dear Editor.

Athenry for Apple’ has become a worldwide brand over the last two years. You couldn’t plan it if you tried. And all because of a planning process that is not fit for purpose. Not fit to adjudicate on a key strategic investment project of the scale of an €850m, Tier 1, data centre. There are lessons to be learned here at the highest levels, but who is listening?

Incidentally, our planning process has said Yes to Apple at every step of the way, to date - at Council level, at Bord Pleanala level, at Judicial Review, at High Court Level, only to be appealed at every stage.

And it’s still not over. We await an appeal application to the Supreme Court.

When I founded the ‘Athenry for Apple’ group over two years ago, its aim was to communicate and make sense of a complex process. We have received massive community support and a simple facebook page has evolved into a dedicated community campaign. Hundreds marched in solidarity with the Apple project in October and now our group with almost 6500 members wants results.

We are tired. Tired waiting for the bureaucratic monster to respond, to make timely decisions so Athenry and the West is not passed by. Tired waiting for Government, local and national, to get its act together on the planning front. We have heard fine words from our politicians, most notably An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, but what real action have you seen taken?

Have you heard of the Government or any party or individual politician sponsoring legislation for strategic projects, for strategic zones, to effect a fit-for-purpose, time bound planning process? Does the Government not see that this is Athenry’s Brexit, a strategic investment corridor for the West, for rural Ireland? We acknowledge support but much more is needed to win.

While I’m feeling frustrated, I am also full of hope for the thousands of young people attending schools in Athenry (c.3000 ) and at the new school building projects underway in the Presentation Convent and Clarin College respectively.The recent announcement of 300 proposed jobs for the food innovation hub in the former Agricultural College is very welcome and no doubt influenced by the Apple project.

It is inspirational to see such progress in our small medieval town. But the good news is we can be so much more!Throughout history Athenry has been a natural crossroads in the West. With the opening of the new north south motorway, it reflects our modern strategic location. Like thousands more, on a a daily basis, I live and breathe the ‘Athenry for Apple’ project.

The added value piece that matters so much for our shared futures, that encourages me to not give up, is the fact that many other initiatives, entrepreneurs and FDI companies are waiting in the wings. Who are ready to invest once our archaic planning legislation can compete in an international arena. But we mustn’t disappoint. Time is not on our side. These investors do not hang around.

So as we approach the Christmas season, the season of goodwill where we look out for each other, the question I am reflecting on is will there be apples for everyone in Athenry someday or will we too watch our young people emigrate like so many generations before us. What other country, what government would stand by and let this unique opportunity pass?

And in rural Ireland that we hear every day is dying on its feet. What government would not sit late into the night to pass emergency planning legislation to show that the Athenrys all over Ireland are really open for business? We watch with interest to see who will lead on this challenge.

Yours,

Paul Keane

Founder,

Athenry for Apple

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