Lough Allen Basin
Ideas & Images
Environment & Employment
This Site explores a specific area of north west Ireland, shows off its great attractions and suggests some ideas for Conservation of the Environment and developing high level employement for people living in the area
(NB. An Interactive Illustrated Synopsis of this Proposal is available HERE)
High Tech. Employment, aka Knowledge Economy or Intellectual Property based work. We feel this is the appropriate path for employment search for the area. It is suitable for the nature of the environment and the available workforce both resident and wishing to return to the area.
Environment and Employment in the Lough Allen Basin
4th September 2008
Table of Contents
(This is a Hyperlinked Contents page. Click on a Topic below. press back to return to this page to select a further Section. This helps access parts of the Document quickly
Environment and Employment
in the Lough Allen basin.
As residents of this area, we wish to see the richness of Lough Allen
(in all its aspects) preserved. But to do this is a positive way, we also wish to see the resources
of the area maximised in any ways that sustain and improve the natural resource, the quality of life,
and the amenity for all.
This is an individual effort aimed at starting a community/authorities debate and initiative directed strongly at the goal of increased environmentally friendly employment for many in the broad L. Allen area. It has been a journey for us. How we have come to advocating such a position and how we would defend it, needs some elaboration and explaining. Views expressed are not 'green' or 'environmental' in the standard modern interpretation of such phrases. We tend to think in terms of 'social ecology', a growing science but not a term that may be immediately clear to all. The evolution of this submission, the reasons why we suggest a new initiative, and the reason why we support some traditional approaches to job creation whilst having strong reservations about many others, and the whole concept of social ecology... are explained in the Introduction below before we move on to a discussion of Lough Allen as a valuable discrete environment.
Previous submissions were 'Leitrim's Wild Heritage' (to consultation on Heritage) and Lough Allen Development (to Colin Buchanan &Partners, Belfast, Consultants to Leitrim County Council) These submissions reflect our interest in the natural environment, wild plants and animals, and the beautiful peaceful yet stunning landscape of Leitrim. Before preparation of the 2nd submission we attended a consultation process in the Ramada Hotel. Whilst this had a structure useful in gathering views it had no provision for harmonising or discussing differing views. It was strikingly obvious that, even in this small gathering, there were strongly opposing views. We asked the organisers how such views could be discussed and was there much value in recording totally disharmonious opinions. We felt that such a meeting should try and reflect all opinions and, ideally, start a process of seeing how differing ambitions can be brought to fruition for the maximum good of all living in the Lough Allen basin. The outcome was a short submission to the Consulting body and, hopefully, through them to the County Council. I say hopefully, as this submission was not acknowledged.
Subsequent letters were written to the County Manager and the Director of Planning and Environment, lobbying to have our views aired. Both these initiatives were graciously acknowledged and a meeting is now pending with the Director of Services, Community, Cultural and Enterprise Development. In this correspondence it is interesting to see how our stance evolved from a traditional conservationist view to one of conservation and social enrichment. In objecting to the idea of heavier boat use on L. Allen one can seem very Luddite and anti-everything. Such would not be our wish. We are simply anxious that, to take that particular example, the benefit of motorised boating may bring consequent damage to fishing and the environment (mainly through effluent release) which may be disproportionate to the very limited contribution it may make to the local economy for a few weekends a year.
Tourism is obviously a factor to consider in terms of social development of Lough Allen. This debate and obvious different agendas caused us to reflect and see how the protectionist agenda can be propped up with a response to the pressing need for opportunities for employment in the area. Are there employment opportunities that will create wealth 52 weeks a year and still do less harm to the environment of Lough Allen? Summer tourism may provide employment for some people for a few short weeks, but we want more! Why should the general mid-Leitrim area not seek a new large employer in a non-polluting type of industry that may work well and, indeed, benefit from a scenic location in the L. Allen basin.
Such was our thesis! Or this is what it became. It can be summed up by three points. The first is one made in our submission, Lough Allen Development, and the other two are best highlighted in questions posed to the County Manager _ and still to be answered!
- Instead of short term Summer employment benefiting a few, can we not find a long term employer of a substantial number of people in a knowledge-economy type business which will enhance not damage the area?
- In the last 10 years what substantial new employer has been attracted to the area, and
- If none, why is the community not screaming for new employment in the county as, indeed, are other counties that are seeking to expand?
We believe that there are many attributes of the Lough Allen area that will benefit an employer. We believe that any shortcomings may be easily addressed. Recruiting an 'employer' will not be easy but no one can claim it is impossible. If, as we postulate, there has not been a high profile drive over many years (though we acknowledge efforts) then maybe the large Leitrim population overseas should be motivated? If people suggest that Leitrim should rely on enterprise and personal initiative, we say fine... but that is not for everybody. Very many people need employment, good employment, at least to start off. It is a reasonable expectation and it is reasonable to expect the community from which you come to do its best to provide this. It's like a civil right..?
This is essentially an exercise in balancing the needs of the Environment and the needs of People. In a previous life working with homeless alcoholics I coined the term to specify the needs of a 'wino' who was intent on 'recovery' from alcoholism. So, not only was shelter and food needed but also a supportive environment. Here, the implications are different. We need to determine how we can best preserve and pass on the unique place that is L. Allen and still see that it provides a sound base for life and living in this generation. So that would specifically exclude any commercial activity that would disturb or destroy all or part of the lake. Destruction of that habitat may be easier than any of us imagine. We do not wish to turn clean healthy water into black lifeless water. No development is worth that because then we remove the potential for future generations to benefit from the lake and its surroundings. The Lough Allen system is discussed in Section II.
Social Ecology has 2 elements.... people and place. The Place needs to be respected and sustained in as good or better state than we got it. This is a self-evident principle. Each generation makes its impact and they may be good or bad. Each generation has used the Lake for many different purposes, commercial and recreational. The largest extant effect from such activities may be the Power Station tailing pond. Little is known about this. Present day impacts could be seen as fish farming, grazing on the lake shore, motorised boating and sewage.
It is an aim to determine whether some form of long term employment can be generated with Lough Allen as a backdrop that will do absolutely no harm to the environment, enhance the area, and generate worthwhile social progress _ in a manner that ad hoc developments and unsustainable leisure activities can never do!
It is safe to say now that historical activities on the Lake have left no permanent damage. We see it as essential in proposing the idea of a Lough Allen Campus that it too should leave no harmful impact on the environment over the years.
Primacy of the environment
Preservation of the quality of the environment must remain our prime concern. After all, we are only here for a while but the environment supports life, and our way of life, into the future. This does not mean that we should not fully exploit the environment. To under use or neglect an environment will also cause it harm. All proposed 'development' needs to be viewed in the light of how will this look in 100 yrs. time. What will our Lake be like then? Certain mistakes can be undone. If we add certain pollutants to the lake through coal mining or power generation they may alter the quality of the lake. That has happened in the past but, as far as we know, the lake has recovered. If we add too much sewage or effluent from houses, or boats or industry or Local Authority waste treatment plants, then we may not be so lucky.
A regularly refreshed open body of water can be surprisingly resilient in recovery but we cannot presume on that. At the time of writing L. Allen is brimful of water. Indeed the rain may be doing damage to the natural habitat! Rare Orchids have been flooded during their flowering season, Daubenton's bats riverine habitat has been flooded at a time of breeding? However, history teaches us that our environments are rarely destroyed by such events. It is changing use or exploitation of a habitat by Man that tends to cause species reduction and disimproving habitat quality. Many industrialised countries have suffered profound loss to water quality and species diversity either through industrial contamination or excess human population pressure. Neither of these is likely to be a problem in Lough Allen and it would be sad to lose our environment by further ill-thought-out and inappropriate development. Short term gain and long term loss!
Not wishing to be negative (after all this is a positive contribution) but it is important to put recent events in perspective if we wish to reverse the scenario where little mainstream employment (apart from retail) has been created in Leitrim over the past 10 years. (Point 2 of our Queries.) It is fair to say that planning in Leitrim has concentrated on housing stock and we may now have too much, and too much inappropriate type housing. It is our view that edge of town suburban type housing may not be the most appropriate concept for a county like Leitrim. The excessive concentration on terraced and attached properties may not reflect the ambitions of many in the area and concentrating such housing in small areas with excessive paving and concrete covering may but cause social ghettoisation as well as providing an environment which is more appropriate to cities than a largely rural county.
However it has left a large number of reasonably priced starter homes available should Leitrim be successful in acquiring new industry and should we need to provide homes for a returning workforce.
The open space, easy travel, and available housing would be some of the main attractions that specifically demand we make a claim and a campaign to attract new major appropriate employment to the area and not rely always on service employment and individual enterprise.
These 3 factors have been significant mistakes in planning:
- Over concentration on development of property (some inappropriate) to the neglect of social development. A misinterpretation of the future needs of the people who may wish to stay or live in the county.
- A weak drive, or a not very public campaign, to invite new employers into the county.
- Relying too heavily on enterprise or entrepreneurship. This may suit some talented experienced people (mainly mature) but will not be available to young people or people entering the job market.
As well as housing development driven by the needs of developers, there is a similar problem with random and competing development of commercial properties _ many of which remain empty. On the other side of the coin, there would be no immediately obvious building comparable with the MBNA building for any potential employer thinking of providing that type of work in the county. The absence of such a landmark building could simply lead visiting Industrialists to pass by the county and move to Sligo or Fermanagh or other nearby centres.
The economic slowdown and halt in the building 'boom' may be Leitrim's opportunity? Some of the mistakes summarised above can be turned to our advantage. e.g. The surfeit of housing may be gradually absorbed if no further housing estates are planned for a number of years, and the existing stock does provide accommodation that was missing in the past for a new middle class working in the knowledge economy.
Many Leitrim people have availed of 3rd level education but have been denied the opportunity to work at home in any sector apart from Building. This imbalance, between training and opportunity, may now need to be corrected and we may have to seek a local economy that respects and facilitates other types of enterprise and employment.
Much of Europe is close to recession. It would be a mistake to view our problems as worse than many. In many ways, they are not. Suburban housing estates have not become derelict and with a sensible policy of 'reducing to sell', a scaled-down building program, and a drive to provide diverse employment in the county it may never become a problem. Other present problems may, similarly, become future possibilities. A good graduate population with many anxious to live at 'home' is another potential major asset for potential employers. These strengths that Leitrim has are discussed in Section IV
Special opportunities/special place.
Lough Allen is undoubtedly a special place. This is true in geographical terms, mining experience, landscape, plants and animals, and the way of life and settlement that has evolved around its shores. We sometimes wonder why the Sweat Houses are not brought back as modern tourist attractions? Anyway, Lough Allen has great potential as a special place for work where that work is seen in harmony with the life of the Lake and where it can bring a resurgence of vibrant new life in a 21st Century setting.
II. Lough Allen
Almost all of Lough Allen and the rivers feeding it lie in an area of soft friable rocks from the Carboniferous era known as the Leitrim Group. Outcrops are rare and much of the land is covered by glacial deposits. Harder rock is exposed on certain parts of Lough Allen, specifically sandstones beds on the north shore. Uplands nearby have a similar geology and mountains on either side have significant presence of both coal and iron. Iron nodules are frequently found around Lough Allen's shores and are collected as heavier garden ornaments. About 350 million years ago Ireland as we know it today was submerged beneath Carboniferous seas and water invaded northwards from what is now Cork to cover the midlands and eventually reaching as far north as Sligo where the striking limestone hills originate from this time.
Minerals have been exploited in the area until recent times and gas and oil exploration has been undertaken. Recent reports of a large gas resource under L. Allen have been exaggerated and it seems unlikely that it will be developed. Discovered near Dowra in the 60s, the reservoir was revisited and 'stimulated' in 1981 but never yielded gas in sufficient quantities to be commercial. The Connaught coalfield surrounds L. Allen and had numerous sites for exploitation. Most production came from the Main and Middle Crow Seams to the west of L. Allen and this fueled the ESB station on the west shore of Lough Allen. Production of coal at Arigna ceased with the closure of the generating station in 1988 and Arigna now derives probably a greater income from the very successful Tourist Centre at the old mine.
Other geological use of L. Allen would relate largely to stone, flags, road stone, sand and gravel. No significant extraction takes place around the lake and the nearest commercial pit would be near Killargue to the north of the lake too far away to affect the area in question. Draining and dredging in the L. Allen area obviously greatly affect water quality while they are going on. The work necessary to deepen the channel from L. Allen to Dowra to extend motorised boating to that area was one of the areas of concern about the wisdom of this venture and one of the reasons why this document has been created to research environmentally positive ways of employment creation within this geographic zone.
The geographical qualities of the area relate mainly to its pleasant and reasonably large lake leading to lowlands to the south but surrounded by striking hills and mountains on all other sides. It is a pleasant area to walk and has much of interest for those interested in outdoor pursuits. Being at the top of the Shannon and, to date, largely unpolluted, it provides a realistic view of the way our country has been for centuries. Any towns around the lake are small and do not impinge on the shore. Lough Allen is unique in our experience in that it does not have any busy urban centres or quays lining its shore. While easy to access in many places for small boat activity, larger boats can only enter the lake through the Shannon navigation. This makes the area perfect for water based activity such as fishing, canoeing and sailing maybe uniquely so on the Shannon system.
Health at present.
Lough Allen is surprisingly healthy! The biggest threat to L. Allen this year seems to have been the weather. For part of the Summer the water level has been very low; later in the year it has been spectacularly high. A few years ago it was common to see lakes on the Shannon system, and indeed smaller lakes not connected to it, quite badly damaged by eutrophication and algal blooms. These problems were not detected in Lough Allen this year. Present risks to the water quality off the Lake are discussed below but in our, not inconsiderable experience, Lough Allen has been more or less pristine this year. Let's keep it that way.
This year we were engaged in a detailed survey of one of Lough Allen's rarer flowers, the Irish Lady's Tresses a type of Orchid found here, in America and Scotland, but now (apparently) extinct in England. (See 'Rare Species' below.) The mere fact that they were widely present and in good numbers speaks volumes for the quality of our environment. But this work was the first time we had walked the whole eastern shore of the Lake over many days during July and August. To do so gives a very good impression of 3 things:
- The importance of the Lake
- The present condition of the Lake
- Risks to the continued well-being of the Lake.
On all scores Lough Allen rated highly this year. It was a pleasure to walk its shores. The problems detected were small and are reported below. At the time of the survey water levels were exceptionally low and many offshore islands were either dry or reached with a little paddling. The weather was also hot and calm for much of this period. Bodies of water had become trapped by sandbanks etc.. However, universally, the water was clear and clean. No algal blooms whatsoever were detected, no oily patina on the water, hardly any traces of foam, and a water quality and clarity that was just a joy to behold. It reminded us of Finland! To have a place like this in Ireland is very important. Other major lakes in Ireland have been seriously polluted in recent years. Maybe they are now better but L. Allen is an outstanding jewel!
Apart from the Orchids, many other factors indicated that Lough Allen is in a healthy condition. Other local plants were thriving. Creeping Jenny, Birdsfoot trefoil, associated with the sort of habitat favoured by the Orchids were abundant and prolific. Common Sandpipers were present on every bit of sandy shore. Lapwings seem to have been nesting nearby, and family parties of Mergansers were seen. Later in the Summer larger parties than normal of migrating Curlews and Snipe were present in suitable areas. Whether these numbers have increased, or whether the weather suited them better, or whether we have got to know our lake better remains to be determined.
We noted during this survey work that motor boats were scarce on the lake. At one weekend in the middle of August 2 or 3 were going up and down. One was moored at the new marina at Ballinaglera, none were at Spencer Harbour on our only visit during August. Small yachts have been seen at both sites and out on the lake on several occasions. Maybe that is the way forward for boating rather than expensive Marina development?
Any present dangers to the Lake
As mentioned above, our survey showed these to be small. Indeed, they can be classified as not a significant problem. But if we are to seek a pristine environment, and if we are to spend large amounts of money in sourcing and establishing non-polluting high quality employment in the area then maybe it is best to be aware of present and potential risks. There would be little point in promoting the area only to find that the basis on which we had promoted it had declined to such an extent that potential investors were no longer attracted to the area.
The essence of the Lough Allen Campus proposal is to attract clean employment to a pristine environment and to use the intellectual qualities and training of young people in the area to achieve the highest standards in both productivity and working conditions. This ambition requires that the Lake be kept pristine!
Small problems found recently in the quality of the lakeside environment are as follows:
- A considerable amount of rubbish on the shore where the Shannon River enters the north end of the Lake. Presumably, this is coming down the river from some uncontrolled dumping in the Dowra area.
- A lot of shoreline grazing by free ranging cattle and horses. This has damaged small parts of the environment in 2 ways. Firstly, some rare plants have been damaged by trampling or grazing. However, on the other hand, they do seem to thrive in areas that are closely grazed and possibly benefit from manure.
- Motor boat activity. Not a current danger but an ad. appeared on television during the Summer promoting the idea of Jet Skiing on Lough Allen and Lough Derg. As far as we know this does not happen on Lough Allen and this may have just been a mistake made by someone in Fαilte Ireland NorthWest Office. We note that the ad. seems to have been withdrawn. A current risk to the lake may exist from planning and promotion like this, which we would claim to be inappropriate. Traditional motor boats, as in 'cruisers', may cause some deterioration in water quality mainly from the people onboard and from unregulated use of toilets and washing facilities. If cruising is to be allowed on the Lake, perhaps a strict no-effluent policy should be enforced just as specified for the new employment centre. (See Section III)
Future potential dangers to the Lake.
We feel that the Lake is quite resilient and with normal weather will withstand some 'natural' pollution from cattle etc. Maybe the bigger issue here is bathing quality, were children to enter the water close to where cattle also have access. For this reason specifically maybe onshore grazing needs to be controlled or monitored or regulated. Certainly swimming is an activity that should be open to anyone living around the lake and we would hate to see those horrible notices going up warning people about algal blooms and the risk to health.
Any other development that interfered with people's right to walk beside, fish, swim in, or go canoeing or sailing on the lake should be perceived as a threat. In assessing the value of the amenity the worth of activities such as grazing should be compared with the worth of the lake as an amenity assessed in both social and economic terms. As the lake is under appreciated at present it is hard to make a case for the end to traditional practices when every bit of grazing can be important. The health issue is probably the strongest case to be made for controlling and confining such grazing.
However, in the future, both increasing leisure activity and differing employment patterns may lead to a swing towards greater value being placed on water and environment quality. At such time we will need to strictly control any factors polluting the lake or impacting on the pleasure and relaxation people derive from spending time on the water or on its shores. The detritus of rubbish along the shore at the Shannon estuary on the north of the Lake is a case in point. Contributes nothing to the economy of the area, is very unsightly and unnecessary, and would be sufficient (in our opinion) to drive both locals and tourists away. This must be stopped. But, to be positive, it is confined to a small area and a lot of the rubbish seems quite old. So, a clean up is needed and a cessation of any further dumping into the place where this rubbish is coming from, must be enforced.
Jet Skis and other 'boy-racer' type of equipment simply MUST be kept out of the lake. It would ruin the pleasure of the amenity for everyone else, quite likely destroy some of the characteristic wildlife of the area, and damage fishing and fish stocks. Such activity is widely condemned as antisocial in beaches and resorts throughout Britain and Ireland. Certainly it is not suitable for activity and would prevent any of the proposals for conservation, and social and employment development around the lake, that are outlined in this document.
Role as habitat and amenity to population.
There are certain important socio-economic issues to be discussed here. Policy as to how we conserve the lake and how we create employment in Leitrim will be affected by how we determine these issues. Here we are into the age old debate, capitalism versus socialism!
Is the Lake primarily a resource for all the people of the area?
To answer this we need to look at ownership of the lake, ownership of the adjoining lands, responsibility for conservation of lake habitat and wildlife, responsibility for local and regional planning, and (most importantly) the wishes of the majority of people living in the area. The question of ownership may not be helpful as we assume that the body of the Lake is not in private ownership and that the shoreline up to a certain height may also not be in private ownership.
Leitrim, Roscommon and Cavan County Councils have responsibility for planning in the area but not for conservation or monitoring of the Lake itself. They also have responsibility for certain municipal waste and sewerage schemes and for providing services and granting permission to development in the area. However, I think it must be emphasised that we cannot hold them responsible for what happens to the Lake. There will always be a creative tension between those who wish to 'develop' the Lake (in ways that vary depending on one's interests) and those who wish to conserve it and ban all development.
It occurs to us that, coming from a conservation background, we may be seen as selling out our ethics by daring to breathe the words 'social development' and 'employment' at the same time as campaigning for strict protection of the Lake. We do believe that objectors who successfully campaigned against extending the navigation to Dowra, were on the right track. We appreciate what they have done and we have indicated to local Councillors that we believe that the Council's response (to abolish an Bord Pleanala) was not a wise or constructive response to the right of a citizen and resident to have an interest in their patch.
None of us own the Lake. The best interest of the majority of people comes from finding a balanced approach that meets the diverse longings of many people for peace and tranquility, conservation and securing the future of the habitat, development of specific sectoral interests, and creation of significant valuable employment.
We believe that it may be possible to base high quality year round employment at Lough Allen and to use that wealth generating facility as a lever to secure and sustain rigid conservation of the area for this and future generations. That way we seek our social and environmental salvation!
Is the Lake a focus for development with economic benefit to some in the community but not all?
There is a view that some parties promoting development around Lough Allen, do so in the interest of specific defined enterprises already existing or planned for the future. Apart from the higgledy-piggledy nature of such planning this piecemeal approach faces many obvious problems.
Firstly, what one person does in one part of the Lake may damage what another person strives for a mile or so down the shore. Yet it is one lake and one ecosystem and both the ecosystem and the aesthetic quality of the environment can be greatly impinged upon by various disparate local activities. So there is a clear case for an overall plan for the Lake and lakeside region as a whole.
Secondly, by encouraging development on the basis of planning applications and developers we may, automatically be supporting poor development. Plans will be prepared on the basis of making profit either for individuals or groups of individuals. To frame and promote such plans will cost money. Consequently, development will be based on the experience and knowledge base of the developers. Typically this will be in construction or land drainage and clearance. These skills have their place but other skills in conservation, diverse job creation (i.e. non-construction), envisaging new options and seeing the technological future will be sidelined or not even heard. With a changing world climate it is felt that, like all parts of Ireland, we must embrace the 21st Century if economic and social future of this county is to be secured.
Thirdly, the economic establishment in Leitrim is very strong and does have a lot of influence. Local people may regret the change they have seen in their communities but, typically, this regret is only heard after their village has been destroyed or their favourite walk covered in concrete. People are too reluctant to object and it is very hard (as we can testify) for individuals or groups to have their voice heard in consultative procedures. People with determined plans (possibly, good ones) can muster support for these plans very easily in a county that is desperate for employment. We have felt that we were being antisocial in advocating the preservation of this place as we had come to know and love it. That feeling of guilt has motivated us to see how we can have it both ways; a pleasant healthy environment and jobs for the kids! But, a developer investing large sums of money in a specific project will, obviously, have to watch the bottom line and may have to run roughshod over social or environmental concerns of others in the community. That is why Councillors are elected (to protect the interest of all), that is why they need to be independent, and that is why, ultimately, we need An Bord Pleanala.
Finally, all development decisions do not have to be correct. They may be soundly based but they may be based on limited experience. Many developments were caught out by the pace of the current economic slow down. Hopefully no harm will be done and hopefully a wiser and broader consensus will inform planning decisions in the future. Rampant capitalism combined with some planning problems have obviously created problems of profit driven housing and lack of attention to job creation and education.
Present commercial exploitation of lake.
At the time of writing it can be said that there is little commercial activity on Lough Allen. Fishing tourism steadfastly continues and is a example of the way to plan for the long term future of the Lake. But all fishermen talk about declining stocks as compared with 'years ago'! Fish farming is also on-going but employs few. As mentioned above, Cruising activity on the lake is minimal and may contribute next to nothing to the economy of the region. A study of Cruising tourism needs to be urgently undertaken. How many boats pass through Drumshanbo Lough; how much time do they spend on the Lake; where do they berth (if they berth); how much do they spend on groceries and other services; for how many weeks of the year is there any significant traffic.
The Lake shore is also of economic benefit to farmers of the area. The value of such grazing is again very hard to quantify. With the rapid growth in building of winter cattle accommodation it is hoped, for both the health of the animals and the protection of the shoreline, that the practice of winter feeding cattle directly on the shore, will soon be ended. Not only does that allow much slurry to enter the lake but also silage run off.
We would assume many people come to L. Allen to enjoy the hospitality of the Ramada and other hostelries, and to quietly walk along the Lake, indulge in photography or watch wildlife, climb the hills and visit the towns and archaeological sites of the area, or tour the new and old Castle Hotels sprinkled around the county. We do not see these people and have no idea of how significant their numbers may be. Certainly promoting Leitrim as a quiet peaceful retreat would seem to fit in more appropriately with the nature of the county and its location fairly near to Dublin but not very much on the sea. People have said to us that, being so near to Dublin, those into water sports will not stop here but proceed on to the dramatic coasts and big waves of Sligo and Donegal.
Someone would provide a valuable service in defining the actual economic use of the Lough Allen area.
Fauna and flora of lake.
Lough Allen is important for many plant and animal species and for the fishing activity it provides. The coast in many areas is dominated by stony shores with Alder carr at (and slightly below) the storm line the highest place to which storms reach in winter time and as far as the waves can roll boulders. These alder woodland strips are typical of the Lough Allen landscape and result from Alder having the unique ability to survive with their roots in water and also to produce nitrogen which is otherwise absent in the stony shore. Other areas of Lough Allen have a muddy shore and there are some good sandy beaches, particularly Corry Strand at the north end of the Lake. Black Poplar is a native tree (but one which is becoming scarce elsewhere and protected in England) and typically re-seeds itself along the edge of these sandy beaches. These seedlings grow very quickly and help to stabilise new sandy areas. Poplars can easily be destroyed if sand or gravel is extracted (illegally) from the shoreline.
Rare and interesting species found in lake and their survival.
There are many rare and interesting species found in and around Lough Allen. For example Pollan, Orchids, Merganser, Sandpipers, White-fronted Geese.
Irish Lady's Tresses
Irish Ladies' tresses is a rare orchid which is found in a few places in Ireland. (In the South West, West and North West). It is a protected species, and listed in the 'Red Book' of endangered species. Around Lough Allen it can be found above the waterline, but generally below the 'storm line' level of very high water. Recent research has shown it to be locally common in certain areas of the Lough Allen shoreline. The only other places it occurs in Europe are Scotland (Mainly in the Hebrides). It seems to have recently become extinct in the only English site, in Devon. The chief home of this orchid species is in the United States. Many British botanists would be very keen travel to the Lough Allen area in the summer period (July/August) when the orchids are in flower, to study and photograph them.
Mudwort is listed in the Flora (Protection) Act, and on the 'Red Data List' of endangered species. Found on nutrient-rich, mildly acidic waterside mud and shingle in pond, lake and river edges. It is a vulnerable and protected species. This species grows in small pools, or on wet mud on the margins of lakes in the west half of the country (Cork to Fermanagh) and is local in distribution. In Lough Allen it has been found on the western shore, in Co. Roscommon, but further research may well show that it occurs in other areas of the lake.
A species of freshwater fish known locally as Pollan, has been found in four Irish lakes, Loughs Neagh, Erne, Derg and Ree. Though long suspected to occur in Lough Allen, it has only recently (2006) been confirmed, by Central Fisheries Research, and NUI Galway's Fish Conservation Biology Unit.
The status of Lough Allen stocks of Pollan are, as yet, unknown. However, the populations are considered to be under serious threat in three of the other four lakes,with the population in Lough Erne in an extremely precarious state. Only Lough Neagh still supports a large population. This is a fish of the salmonid family, and considered to be a relic from Post glacial era.
While the main threats to Pollan are probably eutrophication, competition with roach, parasitism and climate change, their relative importance is not and it seems likely that their importance differs between lakes. Much more information is needed on the factors affecting the reproduction and survival of Pollan.
The breeding habitat of the Red-breasted Merganser is freshwater lakes and rivers across northern North America, Greenland, Europe and Asia. It nests in sheltered locations on the ground near water. It is migratory and many northern breeders winter in coastal waters further south. Around Lough Allen, family groups of these Mergansers can be seen feeding in quiet coves and bays, but quickly move into open water if disturbed. It is a saw-billed fish-eating duck.
The Red-breasted Merganser is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.
These birds are not rare, but their numbers are declining throughout Europe. Unlike most other wading birds visiting Ireland, the Common Sandpiper is a summer migrant. The first arrivals in spring betray their presence by their far-carrying whistle and rather unusual flicking wing action as they fly low over the water. The Sandpiper typically stands on stone beside water, bobbing tail up and down constantly. It occurs on inland lakes and sea coast, mainly in northern and western counties. On Lough Allen, it is regularly seen, and heard, along the shoreline in quiet areas. It nests on the ground amongst stones and low vegetation, usually very close to water - often on river or lakeside beaches.
Greenland white-fronted Geese
The Greenland White-fronted Geese are Arctic-nesting geese, which spend the winter in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In Summer, they nest and breed in West Greenland, and are also found in Iceland. The Greenland White-fronted Goose is one of the rarest races of geese in the world, with a population in 1992 of 30,000 birds. The world range of the geese is limited to 4 countries Greenland, Iceland, the United Kingdom (Scotland and Wales) and Ireland. The geese return to the same sites, year after year in all the countries where they are found.
About 15,000 geese, half of the world population spend the winter in Ireland. The geese are found in greatest numbers in the Republic of Ireland on agricultural land in the Wexford Slobs, and in Lough Foyle in Northern Ireland. In the rest of Ireland the flocks are small ranging in size from 100 to 750 birds, sometimes even smaller than this. These flocks are found grazing on the wet grasslands, bogs and marshes along our major rivers. Within the Lough Allen area, small groups of these geese (10 to 20) are regularly reported in the north east, and west side of the Lake. They are extremely shy birds, sensitive to disturbances by man. With the extensive drainage of the bogs that has occurred in the last 40 years, not only in Ireland, but also in Scotland, Wales and Iceland, the geese have lost their habitats and this has caused a decrease in their population numbers.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service have produced action plans for many of these species. This conservation agency was not included in recent County Council lead consultation on the development of Lough Allen. It should be involved in any plans for a Lough Allen Campus which would impinge on the Lake or its shoreline.
Inflows and outflows (natural and artificial)
A basic ecological principle is that an environment (habitat) is stable and durable when it is not prone to dumping of material from outside or when it doesn't lose vital elements of its community. Leitrim has for many years been losing its young talented people. This makes for an unstable community with an over-preponderance of aged people in its mix.
It is healthy for people to leave and explore other parts of the world. Some may stay and settle elsewhere; others may wish to return. To establish and develop a community that specifically needs that emigration and non-return will ultimately undermine both the social and economic balance of a district. Not only for concern for the younger generation who may wish to settle here, but also in a wise appreciation of our own needs as residents of the area, we must provide facilities for people from all parts to settle and work in Leitrim. This was successfully done in recent times in the two area of building and art based enterprise. However, these are both very temporary employments and can easily shift as has recently happened in the building section.
Leitrim has a high population of college graduates but a low supply of work places for college graduates. The vast majority of young people who may wish to return and live in their own community may not have qualifications in either construction or art. Rather they may be skilled in IT, Design, Media, Accountancy, Social Work, Education etc.. Apart from Teachers it is hard to see how any of these skills may be absorbed in the present Leitrim economy. Without such work we are making an outflow of our best talented people inevitable.
The other side of the coin is shown in the recent building boom. Look how the surge in house construction led to an influx of building workers from outside the county and outside the country. This inflow greatly contributed to the life and economy of Leitrim. If we were to successfully establish a Google or an eBay or a Medical Equipment company, or a Technical Support centre, here in the Lough Allen area, can you imagine the talented pool of people that would be built up in the area. And a talented pool of people working in the knowledge economy will only serve to spawn further such enterprise in the area, be they as sub-contractors or independent trading entities. This way a balanced more durable economy will be developed and the impact of future recessions or sectoral declines will be better weathered. We will have a mature economic environment.
Speaking on a geographical basis, for a while, we do need balanced inflows and outflows in areas such as energy, water, broadband and finances. Leitrim may need to consider moving from an agricultural/building type economy to one that is multi-disciplined with a niche for many in society. I would hope the construction industry recovers but I would hope it would be better focused. I'm sure we all hope existing major employers survive and prosper. But the area obviously needs a third leg to its tripod or else it is in danger of toppling over. How to try and start to provide such a source of graduate employment exploiting the strengths that Leitrim has is discussed in Sections III and IV
How L. Allen can be damaged?
Perhaps it is becoming clear in this review that we see the biggest damage and set back to the Lough Allen basin not coming from development or environmental damage but from a drain of human resources and a decline in social structures. Rural communities, houses and roads are already in rapid decay and to preserve both the environment and the traditions of the area life needs to be returned to these areas, not exported to the towns and cities.
A programme of support for one off rural houses needs to be set in place and a programme for retention of good quality isolated homes where the owners and family may have moved on. Without a dispersed rural population it will be very hard to maintain the fabric and environment of the county. If we do not provide significant worthwhile employment in the Lough Allen area many communities and towns of the area may decline again. If we do, it's quite likely that new or returning workers will seek out different places to live. Some may re-activate abandoned farms, other may seek new or traditional town houses. Some may even own land and wish to build new homes on their own property. If it is their place, and if they are living and working in the area, they must be facilitated. There is no pressing cogent reason not to allow such restoration or renewal. There are no significant or unsurmountable reasons why life in the countryside can not be as good now as it was in the past. Thankfully, technology can both overcome the problems of isolation and poor housing.
A major new employer in mid-Leitrim will contribute hugely to conserving the environment of Lough Allen and many other traditional Leitrim places.
A centre for employment.
We have tentatively used the term 'Lough Allen Campus' to emphasise the professional and intellectual nature of the work undertaken there. It is not meant to imply that the centre would be a base for Academic work, though there could be a small educational or research side to the Centre.
The Centre would rather be a largely 1 Enterprise base with 'campus' dignifying the quality of its surroundings and the work done inside. We seek to set up a very technical and professional grade of employment. If it turns out that the way to go is to have 2 or more knowledge based Businesses on the Campus so be it! But initially our hunch is to have a single major and significant employer if possible. It would be a mistake to look on this unit as an 'industrial or commercial estate' as those terms play down the significance of what we wish to attempt.
Evaluation of the economic benefit from the Lake, now and in the future.
It is beyond the scope of this discussion document (and our ability) to evaluate the present income from the Lake to lakeside residents. Fishing and accommodation seem to be the major benefactors, and these will continue on an augmented scale if the environment is conserved and wise use made of it. Apart from the recently blocked plan for extending boating to Dowra, and motorised boating itself, there is little economic activity on the Lake that would hinder it being kept as a pristine place for high level enterprise.
III. Review of Suitable Employment options.
In this Section I wish to concentrate on the nuts and bolts of researching, finding, funding and establishing a new major employer in the Lough Allen area that will ensure the conservation of the environment and will provide employment and economic sustenance into the next generation.
The Lough Allen CAMPUS?
This is just a working title nothing defined about it. Detailed evaluation of the concept is outlined in the following discussion; this serves simply as an outline and a synopsis of the various elements that we see as playing a part in launching a new Employer or Employment Centre in mid-Leitrim. The initial criteria for planning the Campus could be defined as:
- Environmentally friendly. No effluent, high quality accommodation and road structure.
- A good Employer of, say, 200 people.
- Mainly graduate employment.
- Working in the knowledge economy. i.e. not a manufacturer of heavy products.
- Ideally, with a locally based R & D department.
- Committed to Energy and Waste limiting according to best Irish practice.
- Producing a high quality product or service likely to remain in demand.
- With an established track record and, possibly, an established Irish operation.
- Good wage for experienced and dedicated workers.
- Training links with FΑS, local schools and colleges.
We see the Lough Allen Campus as being a single main employer, not a business park! It could be one large employer but with provision for other small business or research organisations to latch on to the facilities provided for (or by) the main employer. Campus is defined as parkland type location (maybe on the lake shore) where work of a high professional and scientific/technical nature is undertaken and where a sufficient body of well educated people are brought together to provide the energy and environment for creativity and high achievement in a tranquil and beautiful location.
Employment v. Enterprise.
We refer to 'employment' or 'industry' all the time? The reason for that is there is already a major emphasis on enterprise in the county and there are many people happily working away in individually owned businesses. By industry we simply mean a place of work established by an employer to which people travel. It is not envisaged that an employer in heavy industry would either be attracted to the area or would match the environmental goals of this initiative. However, small technical manufacture of high tech medical or electronic devices with a graduate workforce, where effluents were either non-existent or fully controlled, would be a good match for our interests and needs.
Young people emerging from college will normally not be in a position to set up an enterprise. A business that matches their skills and provides the experience they will need will, therefore, be an ideal base from which they can start their professional careers back in Leitrim. They may then decide to move up the corporate ladder or use their valuable experience to move into other employment or, indeed, start new complementary businesses or enterprises in association with the Lough Allen Campus.
Initially, it seems vital to people at the start of their career to have the possibility of steady reasonably paid employment. Presently there would be little scope of that sort of employment in Leitrim for recent graduates in technical or design or science areas.
What type of Employments
We think in terms of 'the knowledge economy' and do wish to apologise for using a not clearly defined clichι. It is important to differentiate from traditional industry as in producing building material, clothing or food. As a large scale employer, these seem to have passed their heyday in Ireland and would seem unlikely to succeed in the terms of this project. So what types of 'knowledge economy' are we talking about; is it selling knowledge/information or using knowledge/intelligence to create wealth? What are the differences? Searching Google brings up with the following insight from Wikipedia:
The essential difference is that in a knowledge economy, knowledge is a product, in knowledge-based economy, knowledge is a tool. This difference is not yet well distinguished in the subject matter literature. They both are strongly interdisciplinary, involving economists, computer scientists, software engineers, mathematicians, chemists, physicists, as well as cognitivists, psychologists and sociologists.
So, basically, we are looking for employment where the knowledge and training and intellect of the workers will be paramount in driving that business. Ireland has a proud record of achievement in this area and we are simply trying to extend that community to Leitrim. Very often the 'product' will be electronic and a rural location will not be a disadvantage; it may even be an advantage in social and commuting terms.
Types of employment would include IT (Software/Support), Communications, Technical Support, localisation services, online trading (Google/eBay), Insurance Services, online Booking. Some employment in this sector, such as 'call centres', may be seeking a lower cost base than we can offer and would not be a heavy enough employer of graduates to meet the ambitions laid out for the Lough Allen Campus. However, many more technical service providers that do require a good 'knowledge base' among their workforce are still setting up new enterprises in Ireland, even thought the net employment trend is downwards
The size of the Enterprise
This needs to be a major employer, to match the scale of MBNA or Masonite but to provide an opportunity for people trained in different skills. The Lough Allen location would make a good match with the locations of those two enterprises based in Carrick on Shannon and Drumsna further south. Not only would workers have a choice of job but they would also have 3 or more major employers in the south of the county.
A figure of 200 employees would seem to be the minimum goal. To make a major commitment to infrastructural development (as there seems to be no suitable existing building available), and to environmental control along the guidelines defined, and to creating a working community with sufficient strength and durability this seem to be the minimum acceptable size. The business will be going into a region where there will be few (if any) similar communities and the synergy that might derive from working in a 'science park', or in a community with several other knowledge based businesses, will not apply to the Lough Allen Campus. At least, not initially. It will be a pioneering endeavour which,hopefully, will proceed to attract other similar employment to Leitrim.
To survive on its own this Business will need to be self-reliant and of sufficient size not only to provide in-house the out-sourcing that other similar enterprises elsewhere might rely on, but also have enough dynamism and indigenous skills to provide a stimulating and successful working campus. We may have highlighted here one of the main disadvantages of this location for this sort of enterprise. However, the many other advantages that Leitrim has to offer such an employer easily outweigh this possible disadvantage. (These advantages are reviewed in Section IV) An ideal solution would be to attract one major employer with smaller units nearby to undertake any subcontracting or out sourcing work that the main business may not want to get involved in.
Is such an Employer available for Leitrim?
YES! Obviously. But it is an employer's market. New businesses starting up or expanding have a hierarchy of options. Asia, east Europe, Britain or America, Ireland? 10 years ago with high productivity and moderate production costs, Ireland was an automatic choice. Now with a higher wage economy we cannot attract all employers and have to fight specifically for those that fit our present socio-economic situation. Fortunately we still have some key advantages both as an island and as a county.
An interesting fact of the Irish job creation scene is that there are still jobs being created in Ireland. At the moment, job losses may exceed new jobs. But the opposite was true until recently and may well be true again soon. Another interesting fact is that those jobs have been created in the recent past both north and south of Leitrim. WHY NOT LEITRIM? I would propose a two pronged response:
One, that there is a possibility of recruiting a major new employer for the county.
Two, it's up to us to go out and wave the Leitrim flag and secure that Business!
The fact that new employment has been created in recent times in Derry and Longford and Fermanagh indicates that there is no particular geographic reason why this part of the country should not be favoured by employers. So it may be possible to recruit a major employer for this region when times are good; why, then has there been no such major new industrial employment brought to the county in the past 10 years? That is the original question I put to the County Manager in the Spring.
Why seek new jobs at a time of Economic downturn
Leitrim... be prepared!
The 2nd question I posed was... Why is no one making herculean efforts to secure that work? Well that is a paraphrase and it is clear that some efforts have been made over the years. Really the purpose is not to be confrontational but see if ideas and effort can help build on existing job creation efforts to reach a successful conclusion.
The reason for proceeding now while times are hard is simply to be ready when times are good. It seems true to say that we may have missed out on opportunities when times were good. Let Leitrim now turn a difficult employment into an opportunity. Obvious factors working to our advantage would be the ease of commuting, available workforce and available housing. It would be a fairly straightforward operation to define these benefits and present a case to an Investor comparing these factors with the situation the same employer might face in Dublin or Cork, for example.
There is a good case for placing an Industry in Leitrim. The pros and cons are discussed below. Here it is suffice to say... let's make that case, and let's make it and promote it now!
Leitrim may be in recession but so is much of Ireland and Britain and parts of Europe and America. If we are fatalistic we may lament the unfairness of life and sit and wait for the good times to come back. If we do that I fear that those good times will simply pass us by. Recession in other countries can cause employers to seek to move their enterprises out of those countries. There has been a recent trend of UK Financial Business wanting to leave Britain and re-locate to Ireland to avail of our lower Corporation taxes and (presumably) better quality of life. Some of these Companies are listed below:
Table A: Potential Tax Exiles from Britain
Asset manager Henderson Group announced they are to shift headquarters from the UK to the Republic of Ireland.http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/charter-joins-henderson-in-tax-exodus-to-ireland-912402.html
WPP (A huge advertising Company in the UK) which had revenues of £6.19bn last year and a tax bill of £204m, is considering a move to Ireland,
Brit Insurance, the Lloyd's of London underwriter, will decide within the next six months whether to move its tax headquarters away from Britain... for a more competitive tax regime, such as Dublin or Geneva.
How should we try to secure a major Investor?
The following is a brief summary:
- Research and prepare information showing how Leitrim beats other locations as a base for employment.
- Set up a procedure to ensure that all inward investment to Ireland is told Leitrim exists, has much to offer, and is open for new business.
- Track Leitrim people working abroad and ask them to work as goodwill ambassadors to provide information about Companies who may be seeking to invest overseas and also to promote the cause of Leitrim within their own businesses or sphere of influence wherever they work and live.
- Set up a tracking website to facilitate the receipt, handling and use of this information.
- Promote 'Leitrim at Work' on a permanent basis overseas. Again, simply done through a website very professional and very up to date.
- Consider and plan for buildings and infrastructure to support the Lough Allen Campus
- Put in place not only statutory planning conditions but agreed special planning requirements to meet the conservation credentials on which this proposal is based.
- Set up an expert body to maintain links and monitor promotion and responses in liaison with local and statutory authorities. Members of such a body should be involved on a voluntary basis and be able to show that they have no other vested interest in being involved except for the good of young men and women seeking employment and the good of the general community and environment.
- It is necessary to avoid a privileged elite who will have established links to other (maybe contradictory) projects. This may mean, in a community the size of Leitrim, passing the baton on to a younger generation.
The Lisbon treaty?
Unfortunately the rejection of the Lisbon treaty intervened in the time between launching this optimistic proposal and preparing this discussion document. Also, the economy and, in particular, the local building industry seem to have collapsed at the same time. In many ways, it has been a shocking Summer.
In initially approaching the County Council to launch this job creating endeavour, we acknowledged that now would be a hard time to undertake this work but we suggested that it might also be the RIGHT time. That assertion has not changed. The fact that conditions have got harder maybe suggests that we work harder?
It is our personal view that the NO vote is a disaster from the point of view of creating modern new international employment based in Leitrim. Like many, we find it hard to see how to proceed in regard to Lisbon. As with this proposal, there are pressing reasons why it is essential to proceed! Perhaps we should simply ask all those with an interest in the concept of modern environmentally friendly employment for Leitrim to vote with that in mind if there is to be another vote?
Not to be part of the Lisbon zone would, we believe, work against the idea of developing a knowledge based economy in Leitrim. By definition and in practice, such enterprises are international. Ireland has done well out of the EU from being the sole English speaking member within the Euro zone. If Britain now becomes part of the 'Lisbon zone' and Ireland remains outside it, then it may inevitably make the UK more attractive to inward investment despite their higher Corporation Taxes?
Current new Companies setting up in Ireland.
The following is a list of new Companies that have come to Ireland (including the North West region) in the past year (up to August 2008) and are working in the sort of area defined for this job creation initiative.
Table B. Companies coming to Ireland in the Past 12 months
145 new jobs Belfast. Citi is a global financial services company, including consumer banking and credit, corporate and investment banking, securities brokerage, and wealth management. 7/7/08
300 new jobs in Derry. Firstsource provides customised business process transformation to global leaders in the Banking & Financial Services,
ON Semiconductors, formally a part of Motorola, is a semiconductor company specialising in energy efficient silicon. They will be establishing a new research and development centre in Raheen Business Park, Limerick.
Mentor Graphics Ireland
Mentor Graphics Ireland, who provide software tools as well as consulting for electronic design, will be expanding their operations in Shannon, mainly provide logistic and distribution services.
Merck & Co. (Carlow)
New facility, Carlow Town,170 new high quality jobs by 2011.
Multilingual sales, technical and customer support, financial shared services, marketing and localisation; will employ 75 people over three years in Mahon, Cork. Almost 95% of employees will be required to have third level qualifications.
Kinetic Concepts, Inc. a global medical technology company, has plans for the establishment of a Global Manufacturing Operation at the IDA Business & Technology Park, Garrycastle, Athlone, Co. Westmeath with up to 250 new jobs over the next five years.
Nortel Networks (Ireland) Limited
Nortel Networks Corporation. This investment will create 60 new high level research positions over the next three years at Nortel Irelands Galway facility.
ServiceSource, the global leader in Service Performance Management, is to expand its new EMEA Headquarters in Dublin. The expansion will create more than 100 additional high quality multi-lingual professional sales positions.
Citco Fund Services (Dublin) Ltd
Will create an additional 150 new jobs over the next three years in Cork City. The majority of new employees will require a third level qualification.
Unum is a US-based industry leader in employee benefits. The new investment will create up to 200 new high-level positions in Carlow .
Zimmer Holdings Inc
Zimmer Holdings Inc, a global leader in medical devices, is to establish a new manufacturing operations base at the Shannon Free Zone and is expected to create 250 new high quality jobs.
Genzyme Ireland Ltd
Genzyme, a leading global biotechnology company will create 170 high skilled positions in Waterford.
Lancaster Laboratories is expanding its operation in Dungarvan with 100 new high level positions over the next five years. The majority of these positions will require people at PhD, Masters and graduate level.
Cameron Corporation provides equipment & services to the global oil and gas exploration industry, and is to significantly develop and expand existing manufacturing and R&D facility in Longford with 140 high quality jobs.
Glaxo Smith Kline
Will create 50 new high quality jobs over three years in the production of a product to aid smoking cessation.
Abiomed, a global leader in heart assist technologies, is to create 250 new jobs in Athlone
Are to create 30 new full time jobs for 2009 at Lough Rynn Castle resulting in 93 full time and over 30 part time staff.
Why NOT Leitrim?
Why not situate one of the above opportunities in Leitrim. As can be seen from perusing the list above there have been job gains in counties all around Leitrim. As fairly newly arrived residents we are a bit surprised that over a long period there has not been a major job initiative for this county. Having reviewed the location and placement of some of the above new enterprises we can only conclude that they are seeking an established industrial base which Leitrim lacks.
Companies in the IT, Electronic, Medical or other technical areas seem to cluster in already defined hot spots. To deal with this possibility we need to evaluate it and try and make an appropriate response. It would be interesting to undertake some research in this area and ask recent arrivals to the north west whether, or not, they considered Leitrim. If two clear reasons emerge, e.g. That we don't have a complementary industrial base and that investors were not made aware of Leitrim as a possible base then we are in a position to more accurately respond and address these concerns.
Both of the theses suggested above are likely explanations as to why industry may set up in Sligo or Longford but not Leitrim. There would also be a cogent response to both explanations. Wouldn't it be sad if employment was denied to Leitrim simply because we were not aware of 2 problems bothering investors? Basically the answer to 'Why NOT Leitrim' is, no reason! There is no reason why Leitrim any more than any other rural part of the country should not be a good home for modern technological employment. Equally, it seems there may be some simple practical problems that may explain the apparent lack on interest over a long period and these problems should be sorted out.
How do we attract such a Business?
One way to spread knowledge economy type employment into Leitrim is to link it to existing sister plants in adjoining counties or, indeed, in Dublin or overseas. Much in the same way MBNA partners with other plants in UK and elsewhere. It would be a valuable halfway step to starting to provide alternative employment in the Lough Allen area. There is nothing wrong with starting slowly. But it is very important to start to establish Leitrim as a base for other work as well as the existing Business and personal enterprise now providing the bulk of employment in the county.
If a Job Creation Campaign can be initiated maybe such businesses should be approached and asked to bear us in mind for additional work to support the existing plant. Obviously it is not our role to poach any employment from either within Ireland or the EU but if an existing plant needs to expand and is limited for one reason or another, a new site in the same general area may have attractions that locations outside Europe might not have. Not everything is factored on production cost, though this is obviously an important element.
If we think of this process as Industry Twinning it highlights the positives for both parties, the existing plant which is stuck for space and the new clone with new facilities. It benefits both parties. We could take Abbott as an example of a Company that has located on either side of Leitrim but not in the county. Or Quinn's from Cavan which is rapidly expanding in the Insurance and Health Care areas and is based in a very similar environment to Leitrim.
Establishing and funding a Community Campaign.
Pending an up-coming meeting, we are not sure of the answer to the query as to why no successful campaign has been mounted to procure new employment for Leitrim. If we assume that much hard work has gone on behind the scenes we can then, maybe, find the answer there. The campaign has not been public. We have a hunch (no more than that) that a good way to progress an initiative such as this would be to involve the general public. Many of the public will believe they have no role in an issue such as this. However, equally, it is not reasonable to put all the burden for a very thorny problem into the laps of a few individuals employed in this sector. It is a very intractable problem and the knowledge base that is both the professionals and the ordinary citizen should be mobilised to try and crack this nut.
As mentioned earlier many people will have family members working in industries abroad, particularly in America and the UK. Some may have risen to positions of considerable authority within such Businesses. Is it not a good idea to establish a communitydialogue to try to bring together both community knowledge and professional expertise.
As we understand it the following authorities have responsibility for job creation in the Leitrim area:
Leitrim County Council
Also, many local groups have some involvement but this seems to be aimed more at fostering small local enterprise rather than recruiting one major employer. (e.g Leader, Development Agencies, etc.)
It is our view that a project group should be established to pilot a long term ('til successful) Job Creation Initiative with 1 representative from each of the job creating agencies and an equal number of members from the communities of the Lough Allen basin. Such community members should be asked to provide links with the Leitrim community overseas and not to have any involvement in local politics or any other vested interests. It is important that a new initiative with new membership be brought to bear on a problem that has not been readily solved to date. (There also, regrettably, seems to have been too close a relationship in the past between a development lobby and local people of influence perhaps not always to the good of the community.)
Matching defined criteria.
The basic deal we propose is that we provide a prime location to a prime employer. That employer would actively participate in protecting the environment and developing the community. Any employer attracted by what Leitrim has to offer (Section IV) would, I assume, automatically wish to participate in this strategy. They will be a world class Business and they will wish to see their enterprise established in a prestigious setting. Indeed, we may have to up our ante to meet their standards?
Defined criteria for establishing a business in an area like the Lough Allen Basin have been discussed elsewhere. It may be useful to list them here:
- They will be in an area of high environmental quality. This should be respected in all they do.
- A building (new or old) should enhance the environment. It need not be hidden and may be striking but should in some way enhance or complement the landscape.
- It should employ at least 200 workers, many of whom will be graduates.
- It should engage in knowledge based work.
- There must be zero pollution to air or water and it must be energy efficient and environmentally clean. (Discussed in next paragraph.)
- Granting and support for such an Industry should be structured to ensure that the Business will stay and expand in the area.
- Business sectors with a long track record in Ireland should be preferred.
Procedures to ensure zero pollution industry.
To be sure of zero damage to the Lake a 'no-pipes policy' should be adopted. That is, the plant should have no pipeline connection with the lake although it may be placed near the shore on a site where little damage will be done to flora and fauna. There will be literally no inflow or out flow to or from the lake. Water will be supplied through the normal regional supply. Industries seeking a heavy use of water, i.e. From the Lake, would probably not be environmentally acceptable. Non-toxic effluent should be treated on site and fully dispersed using state of the art land based dispersion. It is not envisaged that any toxic effluent would be produced or that any non-toxic effluent should be taken away from the site.
As for energy use one of the possible locations for the Campus would be on the west side of the lake very near to existing wind farms. It would be a good use of energy to try and use night time energy produced from these stations to power a significant part of the plants needs.
Some case studies.
Companies such as Google in Dublin are very successful, have a young highly motivated workforce, and are a stable growing business. It is not envisaged that they might seek to expand to Leitrim, but who knows? If we look at the list provided in Table B there are a wide range of enterprises that have established in Ireland in the past year. There are, also, a huge range of businesses that have been in Ireland for many years and are highly productive.
Microsoft in Dublin undertakes localisation work. Commuting to and from Sandyford in south Dublin is not as easy as getting around Dublin. If a Company like that sought to decentralise or expand into a more 'commutable' area, the vision we have for the Lough Allen Campus would be a very attractive one for them. A mini version of their Seattle HQ Campus!
Among the new industries recruited for Ireland recently, some are language intensive. Some are involved in design (Mentor Graphics). Many are involved in medical devices, research and development (Kinetic Concepts and Abiomed in Athlone, Zimmer Holdings in Shannon). In the surrounding area Cameron Corporation have established an oil exploration servicing centre in Longford and Firstsource are taking on 300 people in the Derry area.
This shows the diverse nature of jobs being created in Ireland, many of which would be suitable for our plans for the Lough Allen area. Unfortunately, while the job creation achievement for the Munster area and for Galway and Athlone, is impressive, there has been a scarcity of jobs created further north. So Leitrim has its work to do in persuading the obviously willing investors to explore and consider this area. Sure, we are only 2 hours from Dublin with good road and rail!
Business in harmony with conservation.
Many businesses can work very well with the natural environment. Many electronic and research enterprises are set up in leafy campuses. That tranquil environment seems to be conducive to good productivity at an intellectual level. I, personally, do not have any objection (in principle) to a striking modern building of high architectural merit being placed near Lough Allen. Many people may disagree! (That is part of the purpose of this discussion document.) I would, however, have major concerns about building a white elephant. If the Campus was attractive and successful most people would accept it. Just as the Ramada seemed an intrusion when it was built it now is a feature of the area and its shoreline and water seem as clear as anywhere else on the Lake.
We would recommend that any landscaping of the area should be done on strictly sound ecological principles in consultation with the Parks and Wildlife Service. For example, trees planted should be of a local and indigenous variety, and we do have many very attractive species that are typical of the north west. Necessary car parks and roads should be designed from a water conservation and flood prevention point of view. i.e. we should think of collecting and recycling water if a lot of water is being collected on the buildings and grounds.
Also, while the main aim of the Campus should be commercial it would be highly desirable to make the Campus family and community friendly open to the public as much as possible. This would help develop community backing and motivate young children to think of getting involved in the technological revolution when they leave school.
There is ongoing biological research being undertaken on the Lake. It would be very helpful to have some facilities or meeting spaces available at the Campus to support this sort of work. This could also be a location for any compliance monitoring work needed to ensure the operation of the Campus was meeting the stringent guidelines laid down for it. However, we see this project as working in partnership with the main tenant and we would hope that it will evidently and truly be a clean plant both by design and by heartfelt wish.
IV. Qualities that Leitrim has to offer.
Ease of access.
The Lough Allen area has very easy access to many parts of Ireland. The N4 and its recent upgrades provides dual carriageway for a large percentage of the journey from Heuston (Dublin) to Carrick on Shannon. There are not many towns in rural Ireland that can say that. Similarly the rail facilities have been improved though the service is still prone to many delays; hopefully these will decline quickly and times by rail can improve to correspond with car journey time. Carrick rail station would be only about 15 minutes drive from the Lough Allen Campus. The area is also well served by Air with Knock Airport and Dublin Airport about 1 and 2 hrs drive. The area is, in fact, much easier to access than many areas which have a longer tradition of job seeking.
The above factors directly affect trade and travel by overseas executives, which is very important.
Almost more important, though, is the fact that very many possible employees would be able to travel to work in 15 minutes or less. How many Dublin based Businesses can say that?
This simple fact is crucial to our proposal. People in Leitrim may not realise how significant and important that is. Most people working in the type of employment discussed, enjoy their work but they universally hate long commutes. Avoiding long journeys to work and avoiding lost time will enormously benefit the employees at the Lough Allen Campus. Undoubtedly a facility like this with a top-notch employer will attract workers from far away. That is also to be welcomed but, if they want, such workers can easily re-locate to near their work another feat next to impossible in Dublin!
Such ease of travel to work has enormous benefits to the employer. Punctuality should be first-rate. Productivity should improve; workers will be less tired. The social atmosphere at the plant will be much more relaxed. Parents will be less concerned about their children left behind and a long way away in case of any emergency. We believe the whole ethos of working near where you live has both huge environmental advantages but, more importantly, greatly improves the quality of work and the quality of life. People entering work at such a Business should appreciate the special nature of the project and rise to the challenges being offered.
Available workforce... are there 200?
This is almost impossible to answer at this stage. We would need to know the nature of the Enterprise. It would seem unlikely, that an employer could face a worker shortage. We know Leitrim has one of the highest graduate levels in terms of where they come from. Many graduates are obliged to leave but many seem anxious to come back. If there were not suitable candidates available locally we would feel sure that they could easily be recruited elsewhere in Ireland or from our emigrant population, once they became aware of new opportunities opening up in Leitrim.
It is very rare to hear of worker shortages anywhere in Ireland, even in the most specialised work practice or the most remote area. All people want is to be able to use their expertise and will be more than happy either to return to their home location or to migrate to Leitrim as a new place without traffic!
Leitrim has a settled community and from contacts with neighbours and friends (neither of us are Leitrim people), we know it is a community that is very attached to their roots. The most unsettling factor in the area has been the lack of employment. A mayor new job source should get a warm welcome and a loyal workforce. There is also a growing tradition of shift working and early starting as operates in technological plants in Dublin and other parts of the country. Combined with local living and quiet roads, getting to work on time will be much easier for this community than for many in other parts of the country.
Leitrim has a settled and a dispersed community both highly attractive features which should be preserved. There are some significant threats to this way of life, some bureaucratic and some unavoidable. Leitrim has a specific demographic with one notable feature being... the largest number of single occupancy houses. Many elderly people living in old farm house in rural areas would be one example of that. Also a policy of discouraging one off rural dwellings (even on family owned property) is both wrong and counterproductive. People have the right to chose where they live in consistency with reasonable health and environmental considerations.
While a settled community is a major asset to a Business setting up in the area, such a Business can also play a major part in helping maintain and revive the fabric of rural dwelling. We would see the creation of employment and the return of life to quiet areas that are almost abandoned as one of the most environmentally and socially positive events that could happen in Leitrim at this time. Any policies that could work to prevent people living where they want and reclaiming old dwellings or abandoned places, must be abandoned. Instead people working in the area should be given every support they need to find and develop homes of the highest standard throughout the area.
We, personally, live in a quiet peaceful spot near to Drumshanbo. We don't have any problems with services and are, for example, heavily dependent on Broadband! Others like to live in towns or suburbs. Many returning to work in the Lough Allen Campus would have family homes or farms in the area. As part of an incentive scheme to support job creation in the area the Leitrim County Council should give an undertaking not to block planning for appropriate homes in such locations. This county needs both a greater population, a more productive population, and a lived-in rather than abandoned countryside.
Small scale farming is in decline. Small holdings have little future. Isolated holdings separated from other parcels of land are even worse off. In the past these have been absorbed into forestry but that, too, has environmental implications. Families wishing to set up homes in such locations, which are not family plots, should be supported in providing themselves with comfortable energy efficient houses with advice (and possibly grants) to help them meet the best environmental standards. Indeed such advice could be part and parcel of a bonus scheme operated by the Lough Allen Campus. It would not be very expensive and would greatly benefit both the Leitrim landscape and young families starting off.
Lower cost of living.
More controversy I hate writing these bits! There is a fine line between political correctness and social ecology. Any employer in a knowledge based economy will, by definition, be providing reasonably paid work and all workers should be paid equally? However, it is undoubtedly true that many employers are leaving Ireland for lower wage economies in eastern Europe and Asia. Many of these we simply can't compete with; others, maybe, we should try and match their performance and productivity.
Irish workers have in recent years been among the hardest working and the most productive. Because of factors outside our control our costs of production have increased. This will, obviously, be of concern to an employer evaluating Leitrim as a potential base. Can we do anything to assuage these concerns?
As discussed elsewhere in this Section, there are some factors that contribute to lower living costs in this area; there are some elements that are dearer also. However, it is true to say that a technological worker working in Dublin will have less disposable income at the end of the week than a colleague doing similar work and on an identical salary in Leitrim. Let's break this down...
- Commuting costs will be much less. €3 versus €10 per day..?
- Housing Costs will be greatly less. Mortgage of €190k versus €400k
- Child care. (Family support may be available) 33% less..?
Add these up and the differences could be €1000's a year. Would it be possible to use this as a sweetener to attract a good and fair but not spendthrift employer. Maybe the principle should be that Unions should seek the same take home pay from the employer and that living costs could be factored in to that. I can see the Trade Union movement having difficulty with this, for good reasons, but should not the priority be to get good secure well paid employment into the area and make some necessary compromises in return for the pleasure of working in a modern plant, with interesting work, in an idealistic setting.
We are in no way suggesting a low wage Business; on the contrary, we feel the workers and the wages should both be the best possible. But it may be reasonable for the employer to balance the downsides of establishing in Leitrim with the obvious many advantages. Maybe, one of those should be a workforce that is happy to work for the same net benefit as colleagues elsewhere but does not necessarily have to have the exact same nominal wage. We all know how a good wage can be eroded by high costs of employment in city locations. Lets settle for a good wage with a low cost of working?
Ireland's low Corporation Tax Rate.
All of Ireland has a low Corporation Tax rate. So the battle we must fight in Leitrim is to motivate that inward investment coming to Ireland (because of our low Tax rate), to decide also to come to Leitrim ― because of an available trained workforce, ease of getting about, and the related lower living and working costs.
Ireland's tax rate is 12.50%, Netherlands 25.5%, United Kingdom 28%, Germany 30%, France 34.43% and America 39.5%. No wonder American Companies like to headquarter their European operations here. On the downside eastern European countries have low tax rates and low wage costs and consequently undermine our competitiveness. We will have to rely on other factors favouring Ireland and Leitrim to compete with a trend, mainly among manufacturing business to move to east Europe.
Interestingly, at the time of writing, there is an ongoing rumour mill in both the British and Irish Newspapers of British companies moving their Boards to Ireland because of our lower Tax rates. Whether the Company or any significant employment may follow this financial manouvre, is not clear. It is possible, and might be yet another opportunity with this country's considerable economic base in financial services.
Good communications and broadband.
Good domestic Broadband is now widely available in Leitrim. The levels of Internet communication would be very much higher for a Business operating in the knowledge economy. How much higher will vary with the nature of the enterprise. The exact bandwidth and speed that will be required we are simply not equipped to specify! I would like to assume that whatever it is it can be provided. Certainly the network is expanding and improving rapidly and we see no reason why a state-of-the-art quality of service could not be provided anywhere in the Lough Allen area.
The Lough Allen Campus would be totally dependent on such good communications. We are not envisaging a situation where one or two emails would need to be sent and received with order information; rather it will be 200+ people continually online consulting, liaising, and advising clients and customers around the world. This would be the greatest demand scenario. It could be less and it could be periodic but we would be wise to design and plan for the maximum possible load. This is an element of planning for such a project that can be speedily checked and should be!
Readily available housing.
Leitrim has a large stock of unoccupied housing. The vast majority of this is new and, seemingly, of a high standard. Much of it would be of a similar type and might not appeal to all i.e. housing estates on the edges of towns. Some of these estates, it must be said, are poorly planned and seem overcrowded for the nature of the Leitrim landscape. However there is no question about there being adequate housing available for even our wildest dreams of job creation.
At the moment there are good houses being advertised here for €;175k and extremely nice houses for €;199k. Such prices would simply be a dream or a fantasy for workers starting off in this type of employment in Dublin or Cork or Galway. To put it bluntly, with a steady job a worker can afford a home here not in Dublin! We think people should think of re-evaluating their work/life balance and simply move to Leitrim! Anyone agree?
Other accommodation in the one-offs outside the towns would also be available in smaller numbers. Housing like this might appeal more to managers and executives of any Company establishing in the area, or simply for people (like ourselves) that just love a quiet and peaceful home place. Any reservations that planners have (or may have had) about one-off rural housing should definitely be lifted for people who have a definite purpose for living in such a location. e.g. nearby work.
Dedicated teachers are another blessing for Co. Leitrim. Existing primary and secondary schools can probably absorb some new pupils as they are at present; with modest expansion they should cater well for a new or returning population up to the size outlined for this new Business. All schools we have had contact with provide great education, facilities in terms of sports and technology could be improved especially with a growing student population.
For 3rd level colleges, access from Leitrim to Sligo, Maynooth and Athlone, is very convenient and many course would produce graduates or top-up training in areas relevant to the Lough Allen Campus. Slightly further away are the Dublin and Galway Universities and Institutes. At present the problem for Leitrim graduates is lack of suitable opportunities. It would be nice to turn this around and have well trained, highly motivated people, in demand in their own place. That's what we, as a community, should endeavour to provide. It is the responsibility of citizenship, of those who work to serve the public, and of those elected by the public.
Great variety of recreational outlets.
It is not a commercial entity, nor does it seem to have a major impact on commerce. Perhaps it shouldn't. Like religion and politics, maybe the environment and employment shouldn't mix. We should respect the environment for what it is, know how it affects us all, and see that we do it no harm. If so I must plead guilty for seeking to entwine the two. Our motivation is simply to add value to the environment and to link it in a way, that does no harm, to other parts of life that people cherish deeply employment and family life.
Nonetheless, it does appear that in their time away from work, people working at the Lough Allen Campus will have unique and diverse recreational outlets particularly in terms of outdoor activities. We would like to see people powered boating returned to the lake and maybe the Campus could be an agent in further promoting activities such as rowing regattas and sailing on Lough Allen. The lake is also a wonderful source of inspiration for research and study (as we have found out this year), for walking, swimming and fishing, for artistic and photographic hobbies.
Indoor leisure activity is well catered for by sports clubs, swimming pools, theatre and cinema. Leitrim is well known for an active artistic community embracing both theatre and youth theatre, as well as painting and design. People of a creative or artistic bent, or nature lovers, should find much to stimulate and relax them here!
That concludes our musing. Hope this is strong on idealism, some practical observations, a few suggestions that are worth following up... and not too much waffle!
David Farrell B.Sc
further research and observations from
Frances Farrell M.Sc
4th September 2008
Aughriman, Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim