Fianna Fáil TD for Offaly Barry Cowen has said the Government is now scrambling to put in place a jobs initiative for the Midlands after realising that it has abandoned the region over the last four years. Deputy Cowen called for an honest and frank debate surrounding the jobs initiative to ensure economic activity is stimulated across the Midlands.

Deputy Cowen commented, “While today’s jobs initiative is to be welcomed, it nonetheless needs to be followed up with concrete action. It is all too often that we have seen the Government launch initiatives and strategies which ultimately end up gathering dust on a shelf. The Government needs to explain why exactly it took four years for this initiative to be launched.

“After four years of implementing damaging cutbacks across the Midlands the Government is finally recognising that a coherent and long term jobs strategy is needed to encourage growth in the region. This is something that I have consistently called for in recent years. It is clear that the fast approaching General Election is finally forcing the Government to acknowledge the basic needs of communities across the Midlands.

“The legacy of this Government will be the onset of a two tier recovery and the decline of towns and villages in the Midlands region. The national unemployment rate in Ireland currently stands at 9.9% while the Midlands rate stands at 12.4%, the second highest regional unemployment rate in the country. Official figures show that the IDA only visited Offaly five times between 2012 and 2014, which demonstrates how the Government has not been serious with its efforts to promote economic growth in the Midlands region. The fast approaching General Election is the real motivating factor behind this latest announcement.

“Little has been done to encourage the retention of much needed services in our communities. The Government has overseen the closure of rural Garda stations, Post Offices and has also forced the withdrawal of vital rural transport routes. These closures have seriously damaged the fabric of communities across the Midlands and will make economic recovery more difficult to achieve in the years ahead.

“Communities in the Midlands region were also promised a radical home building programme under this Government. However this pledge is yet to be delivered on. Few new homes have been built over the last four years which again highlights the lack of commitment to the Midlands. I fear that this lack of commitment is set to continue.

“The Government has been strong on promises but weak on delivery. This jobs initiative is a welcome step forward, but it needs to be followed up with real and meaningful action to ensure that economic recovery spreads to all corners of Ireland. Fianna Fáil has been highlighting how communities in the Midlands are being left behind under the current Government but our concerns were ignored. We have advanced numerous proposals to stimulate economic growth in counties such as Offaly, but these proposals were rejected out of hand. We will continue to push the Government to deliver on behalf of communities in the Midlands region over the coming months” said Deputy Cowen.