“The time is now, and the foundations are laid, however substantial inputs are required to progress and drive the Midlands region towards the middle of this century.”
The words of John McGrath, President, Athlone Chamber of Commerce and Industry, describing the current position of Athlone with regard to the Project 2040 Development Plan and the current Government negotiations.
“A lot of work has been carried out by stakeholders in the Midlands over the past half decade to position the Midlands with a proposition that has finally received national political backing. We will need a strong voice in the Oireachtas if the ambition and potential of the Midland Region is to be realised.
"The business sector has stepped up and ensured the inputs necessary were provided in order to designate Athlone a regional centre of growth, which had been in the pipeline politically since the Buchanan Report (a report on the economic growth of the country ) published in 1968. The business community will continue to contribute and assist in any of the areas in which we are needed," John asserted.
As a major urban centre strategically located in the centre of Ireland and on what Athlone Chamber describes as the “East West Economic Corridor” (EWEC ), Athlone falls prey to the "split issue".
"Athlone falls under two European regions, two European assemblies, two provinces, two sub-regional authorities, two counties, two regional district authorities and two 'far sides'. These are just the political divides. You also have all the Government agencies, IDA, Enterprise Ireland, HSE and relevant agencies dealing with matters pertaining to the town.
"Now, in addition to the need to deal with all these agencies, we have an urban centre with no political representation within the Dail. We do recognise however the input Denis Naughton has had with respect to the designation of Athlone and we believe that without the Independent Deputy and Minister of State, Kevin 'Boxer' Moran, the designation may not have occurred.
"What Athlone needs now as much as ever is the galvanising of support for the growth of Athlone," John stated.
Athlone Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO, MR. Gerry McInerney, noted that the organisation remains engaged with the local business community as the roadmap to recovery proceeds.
“We remain engaged with the business community during these difficult times and look to continue with initiatives commenced last year following the National Planning Framework designation.
"We have engaged with the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly in recent months in order to identify the economic challenges as well as the local ambition with respect to short, medium and long term growth of the region with Athlone being the centre of such regional growth.
"We have also engaged with both the Westmeath and Roscommon local authorities Joint Economic Review being worked upon at present.
“In addition, Athlone Chamber are engaging with the hospitality sector and reviewing a way forward through engagement with the local authorities, Failte Ireland and Destination Athlone in order to maximise the 'Hidden Heartlands' proposition and any other supports which are becoming available.
In conclusion, John referenced the Just Transition programme which has commenced public consultation and is seeking submissions with respect to viable, worthwhile projects.
"Athlone Chamber are presently engaging with numerous agencies, companies and businesses to investigate the opportunities available through this programme," John emphasised.