Groundswell of support for economic regeneration initiative

June 10, 2013

A huge swell of support for a new initiative aimed at boosting tourism and the general economy of Crossmaglen and the Slieve Gullion area was witnessed at the launch of the ‘Colourful Past Confident Future’ strategy in Crossmaglen Community Centre on Friday.

Led by Newry and Mourne District Council and incorporating local businesses and voluntary sector groups, the scheme is a promotional campaign highlighting the positive programmes, activity and efforts being made by local communities and agencies to stimulate development and economic growth of the area.

Dozens of representatives from key local and regional agencies joined politicians and members of the community and voluntary sector at the event where the audience heard from a number of guest speakers all of whom covered a different element of activity taking place within the area.  Each speaker, relevant to their own discipline, highlighted local business activity, rural regeneration, sporting achievements, community relations, cross border investment and local enterprise.

Oisin McConville took on the role of Master of Ceremonies at the event and, in turn, introduced the speakers to the podium: John McArdle, Mayor of Newry and Mourne District Council; Michael McArdle, President of the Crossmaglen and South Armagh Chamber of Commerce; Raymond Sexton, Tangible Ireland and the author of the blueprint document ‘Economic Regeneration: A Pragmatic Vision for Crossmaglen and South Armagh’; Julie McCann, the Council’s Community Development Officer; Tony Brady, Chairman of Crossmaglen Rangers GFC; Cliodhna Geraghty, SARWN; Thomas Hunter McGowan, Intertrade Ireland; Siobhan Reel, owner of Deli Lites and MP Conor Murphy.

Each speaker outlined the efforts of their individual group or agency in helping Crossmaglen and south Armagh move on from its ‘colourful past’ and towards a more economically vibrant future.Welcoming everyone to the event, Mayor McArdle said “The key public, private and community sector promoters of the ‘Colourful Past Confident Future’ initiative recognize that this launch event will simply be a starting point from which a newly formed local steering committee can then move forward to deliver on the initiative.”

Addressing the audience, Michael McArdle, President of Crossmaglen and South Armagh Chamber, outlined the activities of the group since its inception in 2008, and how cross-border links have been formed with a number of key agencies with a view to attracting investment to the area.

Having commissioned the strategy document ‘Economic Regeneration: A Pragmatic Vision for Crossmaglen and South Armagh’ which was launched at the event, Mr McArdle also gave details of how the document examines the positive aspects of Crossmaglen and the Slieve Gullion area, the needs of the area in terms of the local socio-economic backdrop and the steps required to ensure the area is portrayed in a positive light that will in turn boost economic activity.

Paying tribute to the sterling work helping to boost tourism in the area, he singled out Colm Murphy of Matthews Tours and Fiona Carragher, of the Cross Square Hotel, who travelled to America last year to forge links with groups and organisations to encourage them to visit Crossmaglen and south Armagh.

Calling on the wider community to help promote the area and move away from any negative image, Mr McArdle said “It is up to us to attract such investment,” he said, adding “The past is for reference, not for residence.”

Author of the Chamber’s document, Raymond Sexton said it is a reflection of ideas gleaned from local opinion and, when implemented, will pave the way to Crossmaglen and Slieve Gullion becoming a vibrant hub of sustainable economic activity.

Julie McCann spoke of Council-led initiatives ongoing in the area including the development of the Slieve Gullion pathways, in conjunction with CASA, and the award-winning playpark.  She outlined plans to continue developing recreational activities in the area and maximizing opportunities made possible with increased footfall.

Commenting on the launch of the ‘Crossmaglen, Culloville and Creggan Cluster Village Renewal Plan, commissioned by the Council, Mrs McCann outlined the document’s recommendations and projects for rural regeneration.

Tony Brady from Crossmaglen Rangers GFC discussed the social responsibility of GAA clubs in the area which, he said, are the heart and soul of communities. He spoke of Rangers’ involvement with the Chamber of Commerce in looking at ways to work together to promote the area and pledged the full support of his club for the Confident Future initiative by capitalizing on the club’s sporting success and transferring it to the wider community.

Cliodhna Geraghty, speaking on behalf of SARWN (South Armagh Rural Women’s Network) revealed the group’s cross-community relations with the unionist community through its involvement in a number of projects.

She said such schemes have broken down barriers between unionist and nationalist communities since the group began in 1999, providing women throughout the area with educational and training opportunities.

Representing InterTrade Ireland, Thomas Hunter McGowan spoke of the need for businesses to develop cross-border trade and pledged support, guidance and assistance for companies wishing to develop, particularly in the export market.

Proprietor of the hugely successful local business, Deli Lites, Siobhan Reel from Silverbridge said she was honoured to be asked to address the event.

A ready-made local success story, Deli Lites has expanded to include six retail outlets and a wholesale factory from its beginnings 19 years ago.  Describing the journey as both challenging and rewarding, Siobhan said one of her greatest achievements has been providing employment to 150 people.

“It’s very encouraging to hear of these initiatives because I believe coming from this area, there is lots of untapped potential in terms of its natural resources. More importantly, I believe the people of Crossmaglen and south Armagh are its greatest assets.  It is important to engage and communicate messages and let people know what is available to help bring in more investment or start up a business.”

Last to take the podium, MP Conor Murphy extending the apologies of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness who was unable to attend.  He pledged the full support of the Minister and the Assembly to this new initiative.

Mr Murphy said the project title ‘Colourful Past Confident Future’ points out the choice in front of us and we must choose to move forward and work towards building a more positive and sustainable economy.

Acknowledging the struggle of many businesses in the border region when dealing with the effects of partition, Mr Murphy said now is the time to gather together collective talent and experience, start promoting what is good about the area and forge it into something positive.

“We are here to create a better future for those coming behind us.  This is about harmonizing the various strands which have been battling away in their own area, to use that collective strength to build something bigger and better,” he said.

Quoting a line from the Proclamation: “Reliant in the first instance on our own strength”, Mr Murphy said that vision must be adopted by the people of the area to help themselves by seeking support that will lead to a sustainable economy.

Mr Murphy praised the tremendous efforts of the Crossmaglen and South Armagh community on the successful launch of the event,

“I know that a committee of concerned individuals, including business and community representatives, came together with a view to showcase all that is wonderful in this area and through all of the speakers here they have succeeded in doing that,” said the MP.

“Too often the media portrays this area in a negative light. This must be challenged and I think this group are challenging inaccurate stereotypes by promoting all of the positives this area has to offer.

“The next step is to assess what additional support is needed and to request that from the relevant bodies. I can assure you that my door is open and I will offer all the support I can.”

The event concluded with token presentations to Siobhan Hughes, silver award winner at the recent Chelsea Flower Show [and accepted on her behalf by her mother Geraldine] and Shauna McKeown, who will represent Ireland in the upcoming Gymnastics Celtic Cup.