Blow for Arklow as decentralisation plan shelved
REELING FROM the economic downturn and rapidly increasing unemployment, Arklow was dealt another major blow in the Budget last week when the decentralisation plan for the town was officially shelved by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan.
The signs erected outside Arklow heralding the arrival of the 125 jobs had been removed well in advance of the Budget on Tuesday, when it seems people in Arklow would only have been surprised if they heard it was in fact going ahead as planned.
The relocation of the National Safety Authority of Ireland ( NSAI) employees to Arklow has been deferred for at least three years, though it’s likely to be for as long as it takes the public finances to sufficiently recover – if it ever goes ahead.
However, the writing had been on the well long before last week’s Budget, not least when the NSAI extended its lease at a Dublin office block for up to ten years.
Arklow was one of just 37 regional towns set to lose out on the transfer of more than 5,000 jobs from Dublin following the decision to suspend the Government’s decentralisation programme, but it will feel the loss more than most.
‘It’s an absolute thundering disgrace and another hammer blow for Arklow, but it has come as no surprise, I’ve put forward a number of motions to have the signs taken down to save ourselves the embarrassment,’ said Cllr. Donal O’Sullivan.
‘The decentralisation plan was just another Fianna Fáil stunt ahead of the local and European elections and to be honest no one in Arklow ever believed for one minute that they were genuine,’ claimed the Fine Gael Councillor.
He said, nationally, the plan has still cost the taxpayer millions. ‘At least in Arklow it didn’t cost the taxpayers that much because a site wasn’t bought for the office, like they were in Birr and other places,’ said Cllr. O’Sullivan.
However, like others, he feels that the Bridgewater Shopping Centre had ‘a fantastic suite of offices’ ready for the NSAI, in anticipation of decentralisation going ahead.
The Arklow Town Councillor felt the plan was never feasible as the NSAI are ‘a highly specialised group of people’.
‘You can’t transfer them like you would any group of civil servants. The NSAI are a professional, dedicated body of people who had this plan landed on them without any consultation.
‘Geographically Arklow is ideal for decentralisation, but it would only work for a segment of a big department like Agriculture, Social Welfare of the Environment, not a specialised section like the NSAI,’ said Cllr. O’Sullivan. He feels the Social Welfare workers would be a particularly good choice as ‘ the latest unemployment statistics make grim reading for Arklow’.
‘Arklow has seen an 70 per cent increase in unemployment, which must be one of the highest in the country and this is before the full closure of Allergan Medical Supplies, which announced in January that it would close with the loss of 360 jobs. Ten months on from this devastating news and the Government have done nothing to bring new jobs in to the area,’ said Cllr. O’Sullivan.
He said that Arklow is ‘ getting hammered more than most places’ as its infrastructural deficit is not being addressed; it has a pharmaceutical base that’s not being expanded on and it was overexposed to the construction sector.
‘The problem Arklow faces now is trying to find replacement employment in the area. Arklow should be abler to attract industry as we have a highly skilled workforce and a great location, but much to the frustration of locals we get no help from this Government.’
‘I’m absolutely appalled with the Government in general and particularly for their treatment of Arklow,’ said retailer John Swan, whose Diamond Studio is on the Main Street.‘It’s the forgotten town of Co. Wicklow,’ said John, who also felt the decentralisation plan was never going to go ahead in the first place.
‘I said at a Chamber meeting five or six years ago that I’d eat my hat if we got those jobs,’ said John. He is quick to admit though that – had it gone ahead – the decentralisation of the NSAI would have been of ‘huge benefit’ to Arklow.
‘The town is on its knees. It’s not all the Government’s fault, but they are to blame for not providing the infrastructure we need or investing in the town,’ said John.
He said the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon and highlights the lack of an adequate sewerage system in the town, with sewage being pumped into the Avoca river, and its poor quality drinking water as just two of the longterm problems that have gone unaddressed.
John claimed that Wicklow County Council is too focused on the north of the county. ‘90 per cent of all funding over the next two years is going to the north of the county,’ he said.
‘Greystones and Bray are going to be provided with two swimming pools at a cost of over ¤ 8m, but we can’t even get a sewage treatment plant,’ he said.
Arklow and District Chamber has this week expressed its ‘regret’ that the NSAI will not be moving to the town.
‘We have waited a long time to welcome the NSAI and are obviously disappointed that they are no longer coming,’ said Chamber President Conor Lawler.
A purpose-built office space was prepared for them and we were looking forward to the creation of over 120 jobs in the town,’ he said.
Several years ago a fund was put in place by local businesses and the Chamber to create information booklets for those people who would be moving to Arklow under the scheme.
The booklets were to give information on housing, education and local services, but its creation had thankfully been put on hold after the Chamber got wind that the decentralisation plan was doomed.
‘Earlier this year it was discovered that the NSAI had extended a lease at a premises in Dublin and at that point the Chamber was sceptical of it ever coming to Arklow. At County Wicklow Chamber meetings with our TDs and County Council Management, the Chamber was lobbying to ensure that the move take place,’ said Mr. Lawler.
‘We were all hoping that the move would happen, but now we need to focus on filling that space. We will work with all the necessary bodies to promote Arklow for business – we still have a lot to offer,’ said Mr. Lawler.
Cllr O’Sullivan feels that the Bridgewater Centre had a fantastic suite of offices ready for the NSAI in anticipation of decentralisation going ahead.