THE West Clare Economic Task Force, which was formally established five years ago, is to be disbanded due to lack of interest from the agencies involved.
Monday’s Kilrush Electoral Area meeting of West Clare’s six county councillors heard claims that the task force didn’t manage to create a single job since it was set up.
Electoral area chairman Bill Chambers told the meeting that a recent letter sent to the stakeholders, establishing their interest in remaining involved in the task force, had not elicited a single response.
“That’s sad,” Councillor Christy Curtin replied. “We had a full day of a task force review on September 14, 2012. I don’t know what has happened the report. It hasn’t been made public. We all got a copy of it but I think it should be made public and I think we should join with the community and get on with phase two of the project,” he urged.
“I’ll undertake to look into it and we’ll see what’s the story,” Councillor Chambers said.
Councillor PJ Kelly claimed the task force had talked about creating jobs but had failed to do so. “We haven’t one job created or an indication that we would. I think it’s wrong to be deluding ourselves into believing that if we keep talking, we’ll do something,” he said.
He further stated that the task force committee was trying to take credit for the opening of Loop Head Lighthouse, which Councillor Kelly maintained was Councillor Gabriel Keating’s idea.
“We’re possibly trying to piggy back that now as a West Clare Task Force initiative. Councillor Keating got elected and that was one of the items on his agenda. I hope the rest of us will come up with an idea that might create a job and stop the talking and the waffle,” Councillor Kelly added.
Councillor Curtin didn’t accept Councillor Kelly’s suggestion that the task force had failed in its primary objective of creating employment.
“I think that’s unfair. We had six actions and four of them have been proved successful, as far as I’m concerned. It’s time to reactivate the task force and I’m proposing that the findings of September 14 be made public,” he said. The proposal was accepted by the meeting.
The West Clare Economic Task Force comprised several agencies, including Clare County Council, Kilrush Town Council, Kilkee Town Council, Shannon Development, Kilrush Chamber of Commerce, Kilkee Chamber of Commerce, Clare Local Development Company, FÁS, Clare County Enterprise Board, Clare Vocational Education Committee and Enterprise Ireland. All six West Clare county councillors were also members.
Following a proposal from Councillor Pat Keane, the West Clare Economic Task Force was established in January 2008, while a sub-committee was established in October 2009. This group was chaired by Councillor Curtin and included Nora Kaye of Clare County Council and John Keogh of Shannon Development.
Subsequently, almost 100 people attended seven idea-generating sessions before the ideas presented were eventually whittled down to six.
In July 2010, a six-point plan to help stimulate the West Clare economy over the five years was launched, although some of the aims were due to be achieved inside 12 months.
However, the West Clare Economic Task Force Report, which was launched in Kilrush by the then Minister for Defence Tony Killeen, made no reference to the specific number of jobs that the blueprint was to create.
The report did indicate though that if the six ideas were implemented, employment would be created as a result.
At this week’s electoral area meeting, Cyril Feeney, Clare County Council, said it was clear agencies were not interested in remaining involved. They had received a recent letter from Siobhán Garvey, marketing officer with Kilrush Town Council, but none of the stakeholders replied.
“She’s waiting for some or any replies but, at the minute, because of lots of amalgamations and reorganisations of some of the stakeholders in the process, there doesn’t seem to be currently the appetite but she is still chasing up on them to get a commitment one way or the other,” Mr Feeney explained.
Councillor Pat Keane expressed surprise at the lack of interest in continuing with the task force.
“I think it’s very disappointing that the agencies that were involved haven’t come back and shown interest in continuing the great work that was done for the two or three years that we were involved. Another effort has to be made to get an answer from them one way or the other because a lot of good work was done. We were only just really getting underway and we had our programme set out. I think there’s a lot of potential in the task force so I would urge you to ensure that we get a response from them as soon as possible,” he said.
Councillor Keating suggested that the West Clare Economic Task Force could be reactivated in the coming months.
“I believe there are a number of projects in the pipeline for the area and when they come to the surface, we can re-enact the West Clare Economic Task Force. If there is a need for it, we will re-enact it,” he suggested.
“I have no problem re-enacting it but I’d like to see a job created,” Councillor Kelly retorted.
Councillor Oliver Garry maintained that uncertainty over Shannon Development’s future had undermined the task force.
“There has been a lot of uncertainty in the whole debacle with Shannon Development, who were very involved from the start and were very co-operative. They were the lead agency in a lot of the proposals that were made.
“I suppose with the proposals to take them out of the tourism circle, that’s where a lot of the problem is,” he said.
One of the task force’s 2010 proposals was to establish a Kilrush-based West Clare Tourism Centre, which would act as a one-stop shop for tourism in the region. It was envisaged that the centre would include a booking office, museum, exhibition area and café.
Kilrush Town Council was described in the report as the “lead agency” with regard to the development of the tourism centre, along with Shannon Development and Clare County Council. This project was given a three to five-year timescale. Kilrush Town Council was also to be responsible for the provision of tourism information boards in West Clare, the provision of a telescope at Loop Head and the marketing of historical sites.
Clare County Council was to head up a two to five-year plan to develop Loop Head Lighthouse in Kilbaha as a major tourist attraction. Areas of potential that were to be worked on included the provision of parking and road maintenance at the Bridges of Ross, shore-based dolphin watching at Loop Head, along with designated walking, cycling and hiking options.
Among the other proposals was to carry out an evaluation of existing business accommodation in West Clare and to market the premises to prospective entrepreneurs. Shannon Development was responsible for that element of the plan.
Furthermore, the Clare Enterprise Board was to produce a feasibility study to evaluate potential markets for horticulture in West Clare, while Clare County Council was to work with relevant agencies to produce an international marketing plan for the Shannon Estuary and for adjacent zoned land in West Clare.