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The Dublin Belfast Economic Corridor was launched today in an online presentation hosted by Economist, David McWilliams. Speakers included discussions from Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar TD and Stormont Finance Minister, Conor Murphy MLA and Trevor Lockhart, CEO, Fane Valley. Newry, Mourne and Down Council CEO, Marie Ward spoke in a video shown as part of the presentation.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is one of eight local authorities from either side of the border which came together today to launch the Dublin Belfast Economic Corridor in response to challenges facing the region, which have been identified by a joint report from Dublin City University and Ulster University. In the next 20 years 60% of the islands population will live in the corridor.

Newry City
Newry City forms part of the Dublin Belfast Economic Corridor launched today. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

As well as Newry, Mourne and Down seven other local authorities were involved: Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council; Belfast City Council; Dublin City Council; Fingal County Council; Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council; Louth County Council and Meath County Council.

The report, entitled ‘The Dublin-Belfast Economic Corridor: Current Profile, Potential for Recovery & Opportunities for Cooperation’, states that this is an opportune time to create a North-South Economic Corridor given the challenges the region faces as it comes to terms with the impact of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commenting on the initiative Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson Councillor Laura Devlin said “Opportunities exist to grow indigenous business, establish clusters of key sectors, leverage the appetite for collaboration and use the Corridor as the driving force for economic development in the region and nationally.”

 In 2018, the eight Councils located along the Corridor and the two Universities came together to work collectively to find ways of realising the potential benefits of further development of the Corridor. This led to the establishment of a Partnership Steering Group made up of the eight Council Chief Executives and the Presidents of the two universities who committed to meeting quarterly.

The Steering Group’s immediate objective is to leverage the network’s resources in areas which can have a positive impact and add significant value to the economic development of the region at a time of great economic and social uncertainty.

 A working group of local government and university staff was subsequently formed and tasked with developing a series of cooperative initiatives and projects to begin to realise this objective. The report published today is the first output of their collective work over the past three years.”

Host David McWilliams with Táiniste Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Conor Murphy.
Host David McWilliams with Táiniste Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Conor Murphy during the launch.

Moving forward

Following today’s launch and the publication of the Report, the next step will be to establishing working governance structures which will balance oversight and day to day activity. Oversight will be provided by an Oversight and Governance Board. This will comprise of 24 councillors, three from each Council, and they will shortly hold their first meeting to elect a Chair and develop a programme of works.

There is awareness among all those involved in the Dublin Belfast Economic Corridor Project that developing a strong ethos of co-operation will require time, energy and support. Objectives will be set for achievement in the medium to long-term and based on a realisation that local actions can deliver strategic objectives in a practical way.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chief Executive, Marie Ward speaking of local cooperation said "We are developing a Greenway along Newry Canal and Carlingford Lough which will initially link Carlingford and Newry. We came together to make a joint application for funding from the EU's Interreg Fund and received nearly €3.5M towards developing this Cross Border Project."

The CEO added: “There is awareness among all those involved in the Dublin Belfast Economic Corridor Project that developing a strong ethos of co-operation will require time, energy and support. Objectives will be set for achievement in the medium to long-term and based on a realisation that local actions can deliver strategic objectives in a practical way.”

 The region has a population in excess of 2 million people and is younger and more diverse than any other part of Ireland with 15% born off the island. It also has the best educated workforce with 34% of the population holding Third Level qualifications thereby creating an excellent pipeline for concentrations of jobs requiring graduates.

In 2019, there were 125,000 firms located along the Corridor with entrepreneurship and survival rates higher than elsewhere in Ireland and more people employed in mid-sized and large businesses than anywhere else.

Key sectors along the Corridor include Advanced Manufacturing, ICT, Agri-Food, Professional Services, Financial Services, Constructions and Tourism while among the challenges facing the region in the coming years are adapting to Brexit, Climate Change and transformation to a low carbon economy, low population density and an ageing population.

A video about the long-standing co-operation between Louth County Council and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council was also shown and featured interviews with Joan Martin, Chief Executive, Louth County Council; Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chief Executive, Mare Ward; Sean O’Connor, Chief Operations Officer, STATSports; and Eamon McKey, Chief Operations Officer, Deli Lites.

A moderated panel discussion featuring themes of business, agencies and politics set out the vision for what’s happening and what’s possible and featured AnnMarie Farrelly, Chief Executive, Fingal County Council; Niall McEntegart, Director, Data Center Site Operation (EMEA & APAC), Facebook; Margaret Hearty, Designated Accounting Officer & Director of Business Services, InterTradeIreland; Trevor Lockhart, Chief Executive, Fane Valley Group; and Professor Daire Keogh, President, Dublin City University.

Dr Eoin Magennis speaking from Warrenpoint represented University of Ulster and Professor Deiric Ó Broin of Dublin City University who, along with Neale Blair and Jordana Corrigan, researched the subject and developed the report, outlined the strategic vision for what is possible along the Dublin Belfast Economic Corridor while Owen Keegan, Chief Executive of Dublin City Council, and Suzanne Wylie, Chief Executive of Belfast City Council addressed the online audience which was drawn from the political, business and education spheres in both jurisdictions. 

Great economic potential – Murphy 

Finance Minister, Conor Murphy welcomed the launch of ‘The Dublin-Belfast Economic Corridor: Current Profile, Potential for Recovery & Opportunities for Cooperation’ report.

Speaking at the Conference Minister Murphy said: “I want to commend the eight councils from the North and South for coming together to produce this landmark report. The report shows that by operating and marketing itself as a single economic unit, the Corridor can galvanise domestic growth and attract FDI. 

“It is important that the Corridor drives balanced economic growth across the island. For example a high-speed Belfast to Dublin train should be part of an all-Ireland rail network that includes Derry, Cork, and Limerick.”

“This report highlights tremendous opportunities. An action plan is needed so that the Corridor can form part of an investment-led recovery from Covid and Brexit.”

The Minister also mentioned the Southern Relief Road.

 Chambers welcome launch

Dundalk, Newry, and Drogheda Chambers welcomed the Dublin Belfast Economic Corridor Initiative launched today. The Chambers constitute the region in the centre of that corridor, the fillet, and have long worked together promoting the region as a whole. 

Speaking after today’s launch, Chief Executive Officer of Newry Chamber of Commerce & Trade, Colm Shannon said:

“Newry Chamber welcomes the launch of the Dublin Belfast Economic Corridor Initiative, which clearly demonstrates the potential of a region with a population of over 2million. Newry, Dundalk and Drogheda Chambers and the two local councils already have good working relationships. Post Brexit and COVID 19, these relationships will provide a platform for future economic cooperation and growth. 

“We have the people, the skills and the infrastructure to attract future investment and grow the economy both sides of the border. The growth of the hybrid working model will also make our region an attractive place to live and work.”

The three chambers welcome how the initiative has clearly set out the benefits of the region. 

The region has 2,300,000 living within an hour’s drive with many having third level plus and other skilled qualifications; excellent broadband; three international airports, 7 universities/third level and two deep water ports. We are an investment ready region capable of supporting green field Foreign Direct Investment projects; second locations or companies that require a presence in one or both locations post Brexit. We offer second locations from 200 plus to a small hub of 5 to 10 working in small units.

The three chambers have a long and successful record of assisting both established and potential businesses in establishing or enhancing their position in the area.

We offer ready access to both Dublin and Belfast and still offer a high quality of life with mountains; sea and countryside to explore. 

The tourism offering from the UNESCO world site at Newgrange to the mountains of Mourne sweeping down to the sea into Carlingford Lough is a relatively underdeveloped product.

Over the years the Chambers have run 5 annual conferences on Brexit; collaboration on Skillsnet and other training and for may years a tourism conference in April focussing on supporting our tourism providers.

We look forward to working with the Shared Island Project which we have already started to engage with Chambers Ireland and the Department of An Taoiseach.

Armagh and Down Flags

Host David McWilliams perhaps summed up perfectly the whole point of the project saying "The amount of Armagh flags and Down flags on the back of cranes (in Dublin) - This is the real synergy because the north has more capacity than the south, wages are lower, house prices are lower, costs of business are lower. The south has demand but not enough supply. The north arguably has too much supply and not enough demand. How do we meld those together" Check out the presentation below.

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