Fine Gael party leader Enda Kenny said he was “heartened” by the enthusiasm of the Westmeath and Roscommon business leaders he met in Athlone last Thursday, as part of a series of economics fora being held around the country.
The Opposition leader was joined by Deputies Richard Bruton and George Lee in the Radisson Blu Hotel, Athlone on Thursday morning for the meeting, entitled ‘Working Together’, during which they spoke to local business people about the challenges of doing business in the region.
Over 100 business leaders from Westmeath and Roscommon turned up to tackle the Fine Gael economics team on issues such as local business rates, the future of small retailers, VAT, and bankers’ pay.
Speaking following the meeting, which was chaired by recently appointed chair of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party Business Forum, George Lee, Deputy Kenny said he greatly welcomed the positive engagement of the local business leaders, and that the forum had given rise to valuable ideas and initiatives that would help to stimulate economic recovery and create jobs.
“I feel very strongly about getting feedback directly from the people that are left struggling to make their business work in this very difficult climate. I was greatly heartened by the enthusiasm of Westmeath and Roscommon business leaders we met, despite the magnitude of the economic task they face,” said Deputy Kenny.
“I was extremely impressed by the substance and value of their ideas about how we can navigate our way towards economic recovery in what was an extremely positive economics forum. The ideas generated from today’s meeting will be fed into Fine Gael’s budgetary and economic strategy.
“Some of the dominant themes that emerged included the banks’ reluctance to lend to businesses; the massive costs of doing business here, and the high VAT rate which does little to encourage competition. The business leaders were also interested in the way in which Fine Gael in Government will drive reform.”
The Fine Gael leader vowed to take on board the opinions expressed during the meeting, in advance of finalising Fine Gael’s pre-Budget proposals.
“It is essential that my economics team actively engage with key leaders in business communities who operate at the coalface of the current crisis, to ensure we have as many views as possible in ensuring economic recovery.
“We received a lot of positive feedback regarding our NewERA strategy which is the first major credible step in transforming the Irish economy into a low carbon economy while creating 100,000 jobs in the process.”
Welcoming the Fine Gael team to Athlone, Senator Nicky McFadden said her party was interested in listening to the hard business realities and finding ways to strengthen and support business in these challenging times.
“Westmeath, due to its high dependence on manufacturing, is suffering and exposed to job losses and economic stagnation as is evidenced by the many factory closures over the past while.
“It is obvious that if the economy is to grow again, then jobs, businesses and entrepreneurship must be resourced and supported by Government. This is something the present Fianna Fáil administration is clearly failing to do. Fine Gael, armed with the vision, hope, energy, and ideas that will be picked up at these meetings will work with the business people around this country to put in place the necessary policies to stimulate our economy once again.
“This is an ideal opportunity for Midlands business people to play their part in informing that policy.”
Also attending the Athlone meeting were members of the Fine Gael economics team, Deputies Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney, and Kieran O’Donnell.
The Athlone event was the sixth meeting of the Fine Gael Business Forum, with previous meetings held in Dublin, Galway, Waterford, Cork, and Limerick.