Minister for Education Norma Foley is coming under increasing pressure from the heart of her own constituency to deliver on a key promise made to the communities of Tarbert and Ballylongford by the parties of Government as they abandoned State support for the Shannon LNG project.
Ostensibly long-time supporters of the plan, both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael sold the gas project down the Swanee to go into Government with the Green Party. This was despite Micheál Martin having reaffirmed his support for the plant in the run-up to the election.
The move came amid increasing global pressure from environmentalists over the likelihood the plant would handle gas sourced through the controversial method of fracking in the US. But the withdrawal of State support for the plant came as a massive blow to many locals, who had been holding out hope for well over a decade that the industry would rejuvenate the economically disadvantaged area.
In a sop to locals, the Government promised to establish and fund a special task force to drive future economic growth on the estuary – within the first three months of the new government.
The deadline expired this week, with no indication from Government that it is even considering the matter.
Cathaoirleach of the Listowel Municipal Area and Fine Gael Cllr Mike Foley, like his fellow councillors of the Government parties from North Kerry, voted against the Programme for Government. He is now demanding the Government deliver on its promise.
Meanwhile, one Ballylongford man has addressed Minister Norma Foley directly on the matter – reminding her of her pledge to the people of the Estuary communities.
Cllr Foley described the rejection of LNG as ‘disastrous’: “As a direct result of the disastrous rejection of the LNG project in the programme for government between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, we in North Kerry were promised a Task Force which would concentrate on securing badly needed employment and development in the area.
“This only came about through political pressure from me and other interested groups in North Kerry following the publication of the Programme for Government.”
He said the area will no longer accept anymore ’empty promises’ of the kind it has long heard: “North Kerry has been neglected by numerous Governments over the years and we have received many empty promises.
“But this will no longer be acceptable, and we want answers on the immediate delivery of the Task Force. We need sustainable employment to encourage our young people stay in our area to counteract our declining and aging population in our towns and villages.”
Ballylongford man Tim Kennelly meanwhile addressed Norma Foley directly in a hard-hitting plea.
“Norma, it is now three months since the formation of Government. To date nothing has been done to address the dire economic situation in North Kerry,” Mr Kennelly wrote, adding: “You assured a meeting of various organisations at the parish hall in Ballylongford that an exchequer-funded task force would be in place within this timeframe.
“I would like to know how the formation of this task force is proceeding. I would also like to know if there will be any local involvement on this force.
“Norma both yourself and Brendan Griffin were quick to sign off on a €1.9 billion project in your own constituency. Please keep true to your word and get this task force up and running.”
Tarbert Development Association member John Fox echoed the comments of both men, saying: “We erected signs at the time saying ‘the Land of Broken Promises’ and this looks now like another one. Is it any wonder people are becoming so cynical of politics. We operate on trust in this part of the world. A man gives his word and it is as good as money in the bank.”