Prospects for the formal establishment of twinning links between Athlone and Providence in Rhode Island have been further strengthened following the recent return of a delegation committee to the US city.
Led by Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, Cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council, the newly formed Athlone/Providence committee travelled to the US city, chief among their aims being the exploration of common characteristics between both locations, the end goal being the ultimate realisation of a twinning arrangement.
“Our good friend and Athlone native Patrick Griffin, a Providence resident for over 30 years, played a vital role in organising meetings and providing key introductions during our visit. John Henson, as committee secretary, was also pivotal to this successful visit. Our meetings during the visit were focused upon how we could work together in a mutually beneficial way.
“The delegation met with Providence College Vice-President John Sweeney and Athletic Conditioning Coach at Providence College, Ray Tracey. We gave a presentation about Athlone and our plans for the future, Donnacha McNamara also presenting in relation to TUS. Several possibilities were discussed that could be mutually beneficial to both universities and further discussions remain ongoing regarding such opportunities.
“We also met Providence Chamber of Commerce Director, Angie DiMeo. Athlone Chamber President, Alan Shaw, led the delegation and gave a presentation at the Providence Commerce Centre. Both Chambers agreed to work together to build upon the meeting and to advance the twinning proposition between our town and Providence.
“Rhode Island Labour and Training Director and Deputy Director, Matthew D Weldon, and Nora C Crowley, also met with us and explained that the main challenge facing them is the ageing population and the drain of young, qualified people to other States. They have significant HR shortages in Rhode Island in areas such as hospitality, services, and technology.
“We outlined the labour shortage experience in Ireland and how we could perhaps work together in a supportive and reciprocal way to provide opportunities for our younger populations who wish to travel.
“State representatives, Scott Slater and Mary Duffy Mercier, met our delegation at the State House in Providence. We had a very productive meeting with them after which they signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU ) which sets us now on a path to twin Athlone with Providence. The MoU was signed by both me and Mayor of Athlone, Cllr Vinny McCormack.
“The highlight of our trip was our meeting with the newly elected Mayor of Providence Brett Smiley, who received us in his office at City Hall, Providence. This meeting provided us with an opportunity to discuss the common interests, goals and challenges facing both urban centres. Mayor Smiley had been briefed by various colleagues in the Senate and House of Representatives and was aware of the twinning proposition.
“As an avid runner himself, Mayor Smiley was interested in the International Sports Arena at TUS and advised that he had visited Dublin in the past and would love a future visit to Athlone. The Mayor was elected to the position in January 2023, his term will run for four years and is clearly motivated to get things done.
“I was pleased to give a presentation along with Cllr McCormack and we were well received. We invited Mayor Smiley to visit Athlone and with a four-year term to come, he has no excuse not to come,” Cllr O’Rourke stated.
Cllr O’Rourke noted that the visit to Providence has now laid a “solid foundation” for the twinning project to progress at both local Government level and the various stakeholders from both parties.
Fellow committee member, Cllr Vinny McCormack, stated that ample opportunities were availed of during the visit to promote Athlone as a worthy twinning centre.
“As a delegation we highlighted all that Athlone and the region has to offer and how we can form a mutually beneficial long-term relationship with the city of Providence. During the course of our visit we conducted hugely positive meetings with Mayor Brett Smiley, a number of State and Senate representatives, Providence Chamber of Commerce, Providence College and senior officials from the Department of Labour and training.
“The highlight of our visit was undoubtedly the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by representatives, Scott Slater and Mary Duffy Mercier, which my colleague Cllr O’Rourke and I signed on behalf of Athlone. I also want to pay tribute to John Henson and Pat Griffin, who have been working behind the scenes for many years to bring both regions together. As a result of these meetings, I am sure we will see close relationships formed in the coming months to develop positive trade and travel in both directions.
“Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to Cllr Aengus O’Rourke who has put a huge effort into the promotion of this initiative this past number of months on behalf of the people of Athlone,” Cllr McCormack asserted.
President of Athlone Chamber of Commerce Alan Shaw noted that the visit marked an important milestone in building upon relationships which have been developed between both locations through the years.
“It is crucial that Athlone establishes formal ties with a US city, given the expanding level of investment by North American companies in the Midlands region.
“It was my pleasure to meet with Providence Chamber of Commerce during the trip and hear how they operate as an organisation and understand the level of common interests that we have, as a foundation to further developing our ties going forward.
“As a twinning committee member, I would like to see the sister city arrangement formalised soon to enable further engagement at many different levels with Providence city and grasp the many opportunities which I truly believe await into the future,” Mr Shaw remarked.