I was one of seven children raised on a family farm outside Tuam. My upbringing is steeped in Rural Ireland with all its challenges and opportunities and my politics has been informed by my background and life experience.
Like most of my generation, education was seen as the means to making our way in life and I firmly believe in providing the best educational opportunities for our children in a world that is constantly facing new challenges and demands.
I have worked closely with the Department of Education to help deliver new schools in Galway East, such as those in Tuam and Athenry and also to secure a roadmap for future education, including new plans for primary education in Tuam and a Gaelscoil campus in Athenry.
Education gave me a profession as a quantity surveyor and as a teacher and lecturer in Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. Education and apprenticeships are needed for our traditional professions but we also need to give our children the tools to compete in new sectors, such as software development and technology.
Now all this can happen in rural Ireland. As Minister of State in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment and as chair of the Mobile Phone and Broadband Task Force, I have seen the potential that is offered by the roll-out of high speed broadband to all our homes, both for employment purposes and access to services.
My vision for Rural Ireland also demands that we continue to invest in our communities to make them better places to live. As Minister for Rural Affairs, I have fought tirelessly within Government to ensure that Rural Ireland receives its fair share of investment.
Since 2017, my Department, the Department for Rural and Community Development, has invested €38 million in County Galway in a variety of schemes, such as the Rural Regeneration Fund, the Town and Village Renewal Scheme, CLÁR, LEADER and the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme.
These schemes have delivered significant investment for Galway East with €3.6 million allocated from the Rural Regeneration Fund to the BIA Innovator Campus in Athenry – a development that is expected to create 360 jobs within its first three years. The Rural Regeneration Fund also allocated €1.6 million for the €2.2 million project to restore and renovate Loughrea Town Hall into a facility that everyone in the area will be proud of. Plans are also in hand for the regeneration of Tuam town centre, including the Town Hall, the old fire station, the railway station, the Court House and the old library.
Housing with infrastructure
Housing is a national problem and Galway East needs more social and affordable housing in growth centres around the constituency. Areas like Corofin, Craughwell and Abbeyknockmoy are ripe for new housing but we need to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place, such as waste water treatment plants, to allow developments to go ahead.
Farming is the lifeblood of our rural communities and support for family farms is one of my core values. I strongly endorse the farmers in seeking a just and fair price for their produce. In the case of the beef farmers, it is essential that farming groups work together so they can negotiate successfully with the factories.
As chair of the Atlantic Economic Corridor Taskforce, I have taken a broad regional approach to improving our infrastructure and connectivity so that the West can reach its full potential in terms of growth and job creation. The new M17/18 between Gort and Tuam has opened up opportunities for new investment in Galway East and the improved roads infrastructure has encouraged companies like Natus in Gort and Valeo in Tuam to grow their businesses and create new employment. I also support the reopening of the Western Rail Corridor extension from Athenry to Tuam and Claremorris. The railway would help ease traffic congestion for commuters to Galway City and reduce our carbon emissions. Most TDs in the Western Region support its reopening.
My work as Minister for the Office of Public Works saw me directly involved in Flood Relief Schemes. We have seen more than €3.5 million allocated to Minor Flood Relief Schemes around the county since I was elected, while investment has been allocated for major flood relief projects at Gort Lowlands, Dunkellin, Claregalway and Portumna.
Rural Ireland is a great place to live and work. We are making good progress but we still have a lot more work to do. I believe that as a strong Independent voice at the heart of Government, I would be uniquely placed to ensure that Rural Ireland remains at the top of the national agenda.