Laois’ status as a commuter county for Dublin was confirmed by council chief John Mulholland last week, as he outlined his plan to boost the county’s economy.
The county manager showed photos of packed train station carparks in Portarlington and Portlaoise at the May council meeting.
“There are 10,000 people leaving Laois per day to work. That is 42 percent of our workforce. Every day droves of people are leaving Laois to go to Dublin,” Mr Mulholland said.
“Would it not be better if there were more jobs in Laois, it would also relieve pressure on the public transport system,” said Mr Mulholland, who took up his Laois post eight months ago.
He is surprised at the lack of presence in Laois by the IDA or Enterprise Ireland.
“It is clear that more needs to be done to create jobs. It is remarkable that we don’t have any local offices for the IDA or Enterprise Ireland in Laois. We have to step into that role. We should be promoting Laois ourselves,” Mr Mulholland said.
The economic crash was “a massive hammer blow in Laois and the midlands”.
“At its worst we had an 18 percent unemployment rate, Last week that was down to 11.6 percent,” he said.
Business support and tourism are two areas which he intends to focus on.
“Since I came here I have met a significant number of people with great ideas and drive,” he said.
In tourism, Portlaoise’s ‘fort protector’ history has “immense potential” he said.
“We will be looking to Bord Fáilte to fund tourism and venue development. We know global tourism will double, last year another 8 million overseas tourists visited, up 13 percent. If Laois gets a bit of that it will help, but we have to prepare and plan for it,” he said.
He listed the county’s top attractions as Emo Court, the Rock of Dunamaise, gardens of Laois and natural amenities and cycling tracks.
“We need a strong positive message and new promotional material and event programmes,” the county manager added.
FG Cllr Mary Sweeney suggests that the council employ a PR professional.
“No disrespect but we need communications and marketing done in a professional capacity. The workforce is here but almost half are leaving every day. The IDA and Enterprise Ireland abandoned Laois, we have to take a new approach,” she said.
Labour Cllr Noel Tuohy said Portlaoise courthouse, which attracts anti social behaviour on main street, should be converted to a county museum, calling on Laois TDs to do more.
“We need to put more pressure on our national politicians, it’s time they started to deliver for Laois. Regarding tourism, people are afraid to walk downtown past the courthouse, it should be our tourism hub. I call on Charlie to start delivering,”Cllr Tuohy said.
Mr Mulholland replied that the courthouse is part of a “re-imaging” of Portlaoise.
“It will be informed by a huge number of people, both visitors and living here. A bit of patience is required over the next few months, we will have a report in June meeting on the direction of Portlaoise,” he said.