Sinn Féin MEP for the Midlands North West, Matt Carthy, has said that the revelations that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, while Minister for Transport, forced the dropping of transport projects in the West and North West, including the Western Rail Corridor, was further evidence that Fine Gael has no vision for rural Ireland and treat the very notion of Regional development with contempt.
Carthy called for a full review of all Government applications for EU funding considering the obvious prejudice towards rural regions displayed by the Department of Transport and successive government Ministers.
Matt Carthy said:
“The revelations of the direct input by Leo Varadkar in abandoning transport projects in the West and North West regions simply reinforce the fact that Fine Gael is contemptuous of rural Ireland and the very notion of balanced Regional development.
“The Government regularly hides behind the European Commission when it comes to agenda setting. They exploit layers of bureaucracy and the lack of transparency in working methods at EU level to mask decisions taken at national level.
“They have lied to farmers about the responsibilities for setting certain funding criteria, they have feigned incapacities when it comes to changing the rules for returning citizens and now it appears they have misled citizens about their own agenda to prejudice against vital transport links for rural regions.
“Late last year I held a private meeting with European Commission officials to enquire about the delay in allocating funding for another vital transport service in the western region. The Commission officials responsible for the release of this funding stated that they were willing to favourable consider the funding application. However, the Irish Department of Transport was withholding certain documentation preventing the file from progressing, they said.
“The reports regarding Leo Varadkar’s intervention on the western rail corridor and other projects along the western arc simply proves that there is a coordinated approach within the Department of Transport to impoverish this region of funding.
“Any person looking at a TEN-T map of Ireland will clearly see the prejudice.
“Community groups have been lobbying for decades for the re-opening of the western rail corridor which is lying in disrepair from Galway to Sligo. Not only would this transport link provide vital services for rural dwellers to commute or access services in bigger towns, but it would also contribute to bringing tourism to the region and encourage job creation in a number of sectors”.
Commenting on excuses that there may be further delays based on the need to assess the implications of Brexit, Carthy said:
“Brexit should have no impact on whether or not projects such as the western rail corridor or the N16 get funding and I wholly reject arguments to the contrary whether they’re coming from the European Commission or the Taoiseach.
“If anything, Brexit should magnify the arguments in favour of infrastructural investment across Irish regions.
“These are the regions that stand to lose most from Brexit and it is an insult to people in those communities to put forward lousy excuses that the uncertainties created should actually halt investment.
“I am calling for an immediate review of all Government applications for funding which includes a rural proofing check on where certain projects have been prioritised over others.
“Whether it’s transport, broadband or healthcare services it is evident that there is a clear rural bias infecting Government departments when it comes to funding. PR exercises such as the ‘Ireland 2040’ plan are useless when all available information shows gaping and growing inequalities between the East and West of the country.
“Crucially what is required is a political shift in focus. The ongoing contempt that Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael have shown towards rural regions means that that party simply cannot be trusted to deliver in this regard. I urge people to read Sinn Féin’s ‘New Deal for the West’ document which shows how investment and infrastructure for our regions can be achieved but only if we have a government willing to take imaginative and visionary measures”.