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Today, St Brigid’s Day, the 1st of February 2024, marks 25 years since the Western Development Commission (WDC) was officially given its seal of approval by the then Minister for Agriculture and Food, Joe Walsh. The Western Development Act was the culmination of a community-led effort which began in 1994 to establish a development agency specifically for the west. In light of our 25-year anniversary, we feel it is a fitting moment to reflect on our journey and the significant impact we have had on the economic and social development of the western region of Ireland. This article explores our history, mission, key achievements, and role in shaping the future of the West of Ireland, as we carry the torch first lit by those determined community advocates over 30 years ago. 

The Western Development Commission was established as part of the Irish government’s commitment to addressing regional disparities and fostering balanced economic growth throughout the country. Recognizing the unique challenges faced by the western region, the WDC was entrusted with the responsibility of promoting social and economic development in counties Clare, Donegal, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, and Sligo. 

From its inception, the WDC’s mission has been to enhance the quality of life for the people in the western region by supporting sustainable economic development. We do this by stimulating job creation, encouraging innovation, and fostering community resilience. 

The opening of WDC HQ, Dillion House, Ballaghaderreen April 1999 by the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern

Key achievements over the years:

Western Investment Fund

Through the Western Investment Fund we have provided venture capital, financial support and resources to help businesses and communities to thrive and thus contribute to the local economy. With an initial government investment of €30m, the WIF has grown threefold to €90m in 2024. The original €30m has leveraged over €1 billion for communities and businesses in the region from public, private and EU sources. The WDC has been more than just an investor or supporter of projects; we have been a visionary catalyst, anticipating the evolving needs of the region and laying the groundwork for sustained development. From the outset, we embraced a foresighted approach, identifying and investing in projects that not only addressed immediate challenges but also laid the foundation for the region’s enduring prosperity. We took risks, often serving as an early investor or instigator to kick-start initiatives that might have otherwise struggled for support. For instance, we played a pioneering role in supporting projects like Ireland West Airport, CREW, BIA, and Portershed, each representing a strategic long-term investment. These initiatives were not mere short-term fixes but rather integral components of a broader vision for economic and social sustainability in the western region.

Geraldine McLoughlin; Investment Executive, Jonathan Kavanagh; Investment Executive, Gillian Buckey, Investment Fund Manager and Olive McLucas; Investment Executive pictured with the CFI award for Best Regional Investment Promotion Team in Europe.
Geraldine McLoughlin; Investment Executive, Jonathan Kavanagh; Investment Executive, Gillian Buckey, Investment Fund Manager and Olive McLucas; Investment Executive pictured with the CFI award for Best Regional Investment Promotion Team in Europe.
Tomás Ó'Síocháin, Minister Heather Humphreys & Gillian Buckley at Launch of Indecon Report
Pictured Tomás Ó'Síocháin, CEO of Western Development Commision; Minister Heather Humphreys and Gillian Buckley, Investment Fund Manager

Regional Development

Recognizing the importance of innovation for sustainable growth, we have supported research and development initiatives, fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in the western region. Since 2010 we have sourced and directed over €13M in total funding towards regional enterprise and employment growth through exchequer, EU and its own revolved funds. In recent years approx. 2700 direct jobs and 5000 total (indirect and direct), have been significantly supported in the region.

In May of 2021, together with the Department of Rural and Community Development we launched Connected Hubs. This project started as a West of Ireland pilot to bring together a network of remote working hubs. Following the success of the pilot project, the DRDC decided to make it a national project which has gone from strength to strength. To date, a total of 344 hubs across Ireland are now using the platform to allow people to book a desk, meeting room or office in a simple way.

Stephen Carolan, Minister Simon Coveney, Allan Mulrooney CEO WDC

Policy Analysis

Our policy analysis work has played a pivotal role in the development of critical infrastructure in the western region. This included investments in transport, broadband, and utilities, which facilitated improved connectivity and accessibility. The work of the team has resulted in the proliferation of the gas network to towns in the region, showcasing novel growth sectors such as the creative economy and ensuring the region is at the forefront of national initiatives such as project2040, RSES, and recently the CEDRA initiative. With a focus on environmental sustainability the policy work has encouraged the adoption of green practices and initiatives, promoting a balance between economic development and environmental conservation. In more recent years, the work has focused on leading the area of research and adoption of remote working.

The region has transformed from one of outward migration and population decline. Since 2016 the population of all Western counties has increased with the highest growth rate in Leitrim (9.8%) and Roscommon (8.9%) (based on 2022 Census figures).

Regional Promotion 

The WDC has a unique and important remit for regional promotion. The focus has been on telling the story of this unique place and its incredible people both at home and abroad. The regional promotion priorities are based on the opportunities for living, working, and doing businesses in the West. Several campaigns and initiatives have been delivered over the years including, a promotional website encouraging people to live and work in the West. More recently, campaigns such as More to Life, our TV series Moving West, have been developed. 

To mark 2024 as the 25th anniversary of WDC, a promotional campaign and a series of events will be delivered to celebrate the progress the region has made both socially and economically during this time. The culmination of the WDC 25th Anniversary celebration will be a Regional Development Conference in September 2024. The conference will bring together policy makers, government, regional stakeholders, businesses and communities to reflect on past successes and plan for the future of the western region.  

There is a sense of accomplishment and optimism for the future as we continue to adapt to the evolving needs of the western region, embracing new technologies, promoting innovation, and fostering collaboration to address emerging challenges. 

As we begin work on our new strategic plan, the next phase of the journey will focus on digital transformation, sustainable development, and ensuring that the benefits of economic growth are felt by all communities in the West of Ireland. The lessons learned and successes achieved over the past 25 years will undoubtedly serve as a foundation for our ongoing efforts to shape a vibrant and resilient future for Ireland’s western areas. And as St Brigid’s Day heralds the coming of Spring, so too will this milestone day for the Western Development Commission signal our renewed resolve to continue championing the West at home and abroad for generations to come. 

Mary Kennedy TV Presenter pictured in Sligo while filming the Moving West Season 2
Mary Kennedy, Moving West
Karen Sweeney Allan Mulrooney
Karen Sweeney, Interim Head of Commuications, with Allan Mulrooney,CEO, at launch of in 2021

WDC Chairs and CEOs through the years

List of WDC Chairs and CEOs since 1999