‘Smart region’ approach will drive renewal in Rural Ireland

Fiona Heavey

Reporter:

Fiona Heavey

 The Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) hosted the One Region: One Vision Conference – a gathering of key opinion formers, policy makers and business figures at The Model in Sligo last week.

The event was attended by 170 people including senior figures from IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRI) as well as development agencies and county councils.

The conference explored wide-ranging themes including the potential of Northern and Western areas, from Galway up to Donegal, from Sligo and Leitrim across to Cavan and Louth with speakers such as ESRI economist Dr Edgar Morgenroth.

Peter Heffernan of the Marine Institute tackled the potential of the Natural and Marine Region; the idea of a Smart Region was debated in a Q&A with Ken Finnegan, chief technologist of IDA Ireland and Oliver Daniels of the Insight Centre in Co Galway.

The conference closed with a debate about the Adventure Region which centred on the potential to grow tourism and included speaker Ms. Joanne Grehan of Mayo County Council.

David Minton, director of the NWRA, said, “We are trying to change the dialogue about the decline of rural Ireland and how people view the West, North West and other outlying areas of this country. We have a huge opportunity for success.”

Other guest speakers at the event included broadcaster Duncan Stewart, who said the North West in particular possessed ‘wonderful natural resources’. “I think this region is perfectly poised to exploit these opportunities and go down the sustainable route with huge success.”

‘Dragon’s Den’’ presenter and maker of RTE documentary ‘Battle for Rural Ireland’ Richard Curran hosted a number of fireside Q&As at the conference and said people needed to examine and refine the meaning of Rural Ireland.

Curran said, “Is Letterkenny rural Ireland? Is Sligo rural Ireland? Is Athlone rural Ireland? These are large vibrant towns that have their own economies that have their own ability to draw people into them and that has to form part of the thinking of the future role of our regions.”

The NWRA conference was the first in a series of events that will challenge and engage communities about the future of their region and the possibilities for sustainable future.