19 August 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

There have been many milestones along the way for the multi-purpose, multi-million education campus project being developed by Co Monaghan Vocational Education Committee but that of Monday last, when the contract for the building of the development was signed, was undoubtedly the most significant.
All the formidable bureaucratic and funding hurdles that the VEC have been faced with since the project was announced by former Taoiseach Brian Cowen in November 2009 have now been effectively surmounted.
The transition from aspiration to actuality becomes copperfastened next month when contractors John Sisk and Son commence the building work at the Knockaconny site, progressing towards a completion date of December 2012. The dream is in the process of becoming reality.
The acquisition of investment on this scale for Co Monaghan against a backdrop of unprecedented economic difficulty, and consequent curtailment of major capital spending by the Government, cannot be overestmated in its sigificance.
Speaking at Monday’s contract signing, VEC Chief Executive Martin G O’Brien laid stress on the political and stakeholder partnerships, the “togetherness” that had brought the project through its sometimes perilous preliminary stages.
It is certainly beyond dispute that the political commitment of both the previous and present Governments was integral to this vision being realised.
Many current, and formerly active, politicians at local and national level have been keen to be associated with this good news story, and while cynics might scoff at the rush to bask in its reflected glory this was undoubtedly one of those incidences when concerted political effort proved of influence and value. This time round, the Oireachas members and the councillors do deserve a degree of credit.
In addition, this was a concept that required a progressive attitude of mind at inter-Departmental level in order for the former Monaghan Military Barracks site to be placed at the disposal of Co Monaghan VEC for the development.
A similarly imaginative approach was manifest in the decision to devolve responsibility for the delivery of the project to the VEC itself. But it seems uncontestable that this sort of confidence and commitment would not have been forthcoming from the Dept had all the local stakeholders not been, as the CEO has been wont to say, “singing from the same hymn sheet” consistently and loudly.
Mr O’Brien was being accurate in his remarks, yet also perhaps attempting to modestly deflect some of the attention away from his own crucial contribution to making the dream a reality. If that was the case, it was a rare example of the CEO wasting his time – no-one with even the most approximate knowledge of how this development was progressed could have anything but the utmost regard and esteem for the energy, ingenuity and exacting attention to detail that the VEC’s senior executive has devoted to bringing such an ambitious and complex notion to the cusp of realisation. Mr O’Brien, and the VEC team charged with responsibility for managing this project, deserve every bit of the considerable praise directed their way for their efforts.
The people of Monaghan and the county in general will now be anticipating the rewards that will accrue to its local economy and educational and cultural landscape from having such a widely encompassing learning facility in their midst.
In this regard, it was extremely important for the Regional Manager of the main contractors to make an explicit commitment at Monday’s contract signing ceremony that as much local benefit as possible in terms of materials and employment would be delivered during the construction phase of the development.
It has been a regular and justified complaint with regard to many major infrastructual projects undertaken in this county in recent years that the local economy gained scant stimulus from either the labour content of the project or the purchase of materials. In addition, some local sub-contractors that were engaged to work on major construction jobs were very shabbily treated by the main contractor and in some instances left in a desperate financial situation.
Undoubtedly there is a need for major legislative reform in the area of the protection of sub-contractors. There is also a compelling case, particularly in the current fiscal climate, for the relaxation of the often draconian procurement regulations that have to be followed with regard to major capital developments, which preclude, or militate very strongly against, the application of ‘social clauses’ that would see positive discrimination exercised in favour of local tenders or fringe benefits accrue to local communities.
While we wait for our legislators to act in these regards, it is heartening to hear a representative of the country’s largest construction enterprise state, as Mr McLoughlin did on Monday, “We believe very strongly that a building project belongs to the community where it is built.” Hopefully this philosophy will manifest itself in tangible benefits for local builders, labourers and suppliers when work commences on the new education campus.
As to the benefits that will be delivered to the town, county and region when the campus is in operation, it seems accurate to estimate that these are potentially limitless. The CEO’s plans to see a creative industries annexe become part of the complex, for example, is one facet of the scheme that offers profound opportunities for career enhancement and enterprise growth in digital media and the cinematic and televisual arts, and has possibilities that have yet to be fully visualised and structured.
The local community and the wider region stand to benefit a great deal from having an educational facility of such size and scope in its midst. But it would be tantamount to an opportunity wasted for the community to be merely the passive recipients of these advantages.
The construction phase offers the ideal chance for Monaghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and other local sectors that would have a goods or service provision role in relation to the new campus, to look in a co-ordinated way at maximising the benefits to the economy of the opportunity this development represents, and how those goods and services can be most efficiently and competitively supplied.
Our cultural and social sectors should also be evolving future strategies aimed at accommodating the needs of the campus population and maximising the potential for productive co-operation and co-ordination of activities with its schools and theatre facility.
As a mere passive recipient, Co Monaghan will benefit a great deal from the coming into being of this major facility. But it will benefit a great deal more, and reciprocate in part the enormous endeavour made by the VEC and its supporters in actualising its vision, if it plans properly to realise the full potential of the campus from an economic, social and cultural viewpoint, and works towards this goal in a co-ordinated manner.

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