More than €4m is coming Longford's way under the latest round of Just Transition funding
More than €4m in State funding is to go to a series of Longford based projects aimed at offsetting the loss of jobs at ESB and Bord na Mona.
A projected €4.1m is being ring-fenced under the Government's well documented Just Transition Fund.
Among the main beneficiaries include €1m towards the ongoing expansion and development of Lough Ree Distillery in Lanesboro as well as identical seven digit figures for both a dedicated food hub in the south Longford town and a digital hub spearheaded by Longford-Westmeath Education and Training Board (ETB).
Nearly €500,000 is to be set aside for a 'Lough Ree Access For All Boat' aimed at providing outdoor recreational pursuits for wheelchair users while also providing alternative employment to dozens of ex Bord na Mona workers.
Longford's Employment Development Information Centre (€359,846), Lanesboro tourism hub (€212,500), an Abbeyshrule based regenerational 'yard hub' (€189,572) and monies towards the development of a Mid Shannon Wilderness Park Greenway (€102,000) are other local ventures earmarked for investment.
The almost €27.8m allocated at central government level represents a near three fold increase on the projected €11m which had been originally earmarked under the Just Transition, a figures that has been met with wholesale approval from local politicians.
Minister for Local Government and Longford-Westmeath TD Peter Burke said the announcement was particularly momentous in light of a "huge bog restoration project" which was geared towards creating 350 new jobs for former Bord na Mona workers.
Mr Burke said he had held lengthy talks with Just Transition Commissioner Kieran Mulvey and fellow Junior Minister Hildegarde Naughton in bringing about the increased budgetary allocations.
"This is an exciting day for Longford, Westmeath and the midlands," he said.
Fianna Fáil Longford-Westmeath Fianna Fáil TD Joe Flaherty was just as complementary, claiming the funding streams announced offered up a "release valve" for a number of major and exciting projects in Longford town and Lanesboro.
The local Oireachtas representative said the benefits to the safeguarding of Longford's local economy could rise further over when the fruits of Bord na Móna’s large-scale peatlands restoration project are factored in.
"The plan will protect the storage of 100m tonnes of carbon, sequester 3.2m tonnes of carbon out to 2050, enhance biodiversity, create 350 jobs in total and will deliver significant benefits and contribute to Ireland’s target of being carbon-neutral by 2050," he said.
"The Government funding, which will come from the Climate Action Fund, will be bolstered by an €18m investment from Bord na Móna, who are committed to a “brown to green” transition.”
Party colleague, constituency running mate and Junior Trade Promotion Minister Robert Troy rowed in behind those remarks, saying the 47 projects in line for funding across the midlands would enable the development of a new, green and sustainable economy going forwards.
Longford Fine Gael Senator Micheal Carrigy said the multi-million euro rollout had the potential to fast-track south Longford's path to economic redemption as it readjusts to the imminent ending of peat production.
"This is a great boost to the people of Longford and in particular in Lanesboro and the surrounding areas of Killashee, Kenagh and Cashel and workers in nearby Ballyleague in Roscommon," he said.
"Lanesboro and the surrounding areas can now look towards the future now and with this funding can build on the work that has already been done and when these projects come to fruition they will be able to employ workers who have lost their jobs with the closure of Bord na Mona and the Lough Ree Power Plant."
Longford County Council Cathaoirleach Cllr Paul Ross described the monies apportioned Longford's way under Just Transition was nothing short of "unprecedented" given the current economic challenges posed by Covid-19.
Cllr Ross highlighted the €1m for the continued enhancement of Lough Ree Distillery in Lanesboro, claiming the facility had all the hallmarks to become a "flagship business and tourism" attraction for years to come.
Those upbeat soundings were affirmed by local representatives as news of the multi million euro funding streams filtered through.
"It's fantastic news for the area and is the result of a lot of hard work that has been put in by local communities and council officials," said Cllr Mark Casey.
The Lanesboro based Independent councillor said while the economic "glory days" epitomised by the presence of semi states like ESB and Bord na Mona had all but been consigned to history, the focus was now very much on galvanising a community still reeling from their impending departures.
"This should be the first line of grants we should be able to draw down to the area and even though they (ESB and Bord na Mona) are leaving the area, we should still be allowed to limit the impact of their closure," he said.
His Fine Gael opposite number, Cllr Ger Farrell said he was of the view significant jobs, both direct and indirect, would emanate from the new funding streams set aside for the area.
"This is a huge win for Lanesboro," he stated.
"I've always said the potential for tourism development in Lanesboro is massive and this (funding announcement) is a huge step in the right direction to achieving that."