For me 2009 has proven the best and worst of times.
As a Government TD and subsequently as a Minister of State I can reflect on many very proud occasions, both for myself personally, and for the communities that I represent in terms of the projects delivered and improvements made in the services available to the people of Mayo.
The morning of April 22 will forever be etched on my mind. To be appointed as Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment was and continues to be a huge personal honour. It’s an honour to serve my country and it’s an honour to wear the Mayo jersey as a member of Government.
Some key local projects have been delivered or at least progressed in the past year.
One of my personal most memorable moments was visiting the pupils and staff of St Dymphna’s Special Needs School prior to the demolition of their old school in May, and again upon the opening of the €6 million state-of-the-art new school, serving St Dymphna’s and St Nicholas’ in September. Days like that illustrate the real difference one can help to make in people’s lives.
Other exciting additions to the county have included the opening of the revamped St Brendan’s College in Belmullet; the €12 million St Patrick’s Estate Regeneration in Ballina which will commence construction in January; the €5 million Ballina Theatre and Arts Centre that has begun construction; the opening of the National Park in Ballycroy; the Kiltimagh Sewerage Scheme and the granting of RAPID Status for Ballina.
Other highlights for me included attending the many local festivals throughout the county during the summer months.
I was privileged to share in the 60th anniversary of the Bonniconlon Show; to attend the Swinford Siamsa Sráide and Agricultural Show, the Killala Festival, and of course the Ballina Salmon Festival. Each of these epitomise the strength and support that is out there for community initiatives and organisations.
There are, however, some regrets also.
For many 2009 has proven one of the most difficult 12 months of their lives with some fighting for their very existence in the face of a severe economic downturn.
Unfortunately, Mayo, like most other areas of the country, did not escape in this regard. However, as Minister of State I have been involved in bringing forward legislation and measures aimed at sustaining and creating employment. As a result of the Employment Subsidy Scheme, companies have now committed, as part of their application, to retaining 35,283 jobs.
The Work Placement Programme, a six-month work experience programme for individuals who are currently unemployed, has benefited an initial 2,000 people. We have also approved a significant broadening of the financial supports that the County and City Enterprise Boards can offer their client businesses. The effect of the move is to broaden the scope of the start up and development costs that can be assisted.
In 2010 I will continue to promote Mayo as the ideal place for investment for companies to start up, and while it is tough in this current worldwide economic climate to attract investment, it’s something I won’t stop trying to do.
In this regard we have made significant progress with the N5 and N26 projects; we have witnessed further investment at Ireland West Airport Knock and freight services have been extended on the Ballina-Dublin line.
But we have more to do and for the next 12 months I’ll be working as diligently as ever to deliver to the people of Mayo.