THE Northern Ireland government has been accused of ‘not going further than Lisburn’ when it comes to job creation in Fermanagh and, as a result, the county has lost 2,000 graduates to emigration over the past two years.
The claim is made in a study, described by the enterprise minister, Arlene Foster, as ‘very significant’.
It was compiled by Peter Quinn and Martin Maguire of the Fermanagh Economic Development Organisation (FEDO) and its researcher, Donal O’Cofaigh.
Put simply, its main thesis is that Fermanagh, given its population of 60,000, produces 28 per cent graduates more than other areas with a comparable population, but that, with no jobs to return home, they stay away after emigrating.
Mr Quinn presented the report last Friday in the Clinton Centre to an audience that featured most of the 43 companies which Donal O’Cofaigh interviewed together with Minister Foster and Michelle Gildernew, the MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone.
He pulled no punches when elaborating in its main findings.
He said the economy of the county had been traditionally built on agriculture and tourism, both of which, he said, were in decline.
He commented: “At one time, Fermanagh District Council area was the fourth and, sometimes, the third times highest tourism destination.
“Now, we’re not in the top three or four, and it may not be very long till we’re not in the top five.”
As for agriculture, he suggested that if there could be added value, it would be better.
“The big part of agriculture in this county is dairying, but we have no creamery in Fermanagh.
“When I was young, we had 10; today, we have none, yet just across the border, there’s a company in Cavan with a turn-over of €5m and, over the next 5 years, they propose to spend €70m whilst in Fermanagh, we won’t be spending a penny on food processing over the next five years because we have no place to spend it on.”
He went on: “For the first time, we have concrete evidence that qualifications and low educational standards are highly correlated with deprivation, and we have more than our share of deprivation in this county.”
Mr Quinn said the report’s recommendations were for significant initiatives and changes, namely for government to be more proactive in promoting the development of places such as Fermanagh which were on the periphery, and the creation of local structures to harness the potential of such stimuli.
Among these stimuli, it suggests, are the bringing forward of the £30m Southern By-Pass in Enniskillen, and support or the agri-food sector.
The tentative start date for the By-Pass, provided it clears all the hurdles, is, ‘within the next 10 years’.
But, that depends on the funding being available to start with.
If and when operational, it will be a ‘2 + 1’ single carriageway, 3.2 kilometres in length, linking the A4 Dublin Road at a point between the Ardhowen Theatre and the Killyhevlin Hotel, crossing the River Erne and exiting on the A4 Sligo Road.
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