There has been a broad welcome from employers and unions to the National Development Plan, which proposes investing forty thousand million pounds over the next seven years on projects including public transport, roads, social housing and rural development. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development said that the investment provided for in the Plan would be a major boost to all sectors of the economy, including the agriculture and food sector. Joe Walsh said that the agricultural sector would benefit from the overall investment, particularly from infrastructure such as roads, services, communications, water supplies and training.
The Minister for Public Enterprise has welcomed the allocation for public transport. Mary O'Rourke said that this is a huge vote of confidence in the future of public transport and will address the congestion in cities, revitalise the railway network and upgrade the bus system. However, the Fine Gael leader John Bruton said that the plan is just a list of projects with no coherent vision.
The employers' organisation IBEC has described the plan as ambitious and comprehensive with the potential to transform the economy. IBEC's director, Peter Brennan, said that the plan has the potential to transform the economy. He said that its scale is awesome but realistic, given the scale of Ireland's infrastructure deficit.
For their part, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions says that they support the overall thrust of the plan. However, the ICTU General Secretary, Peter Cassells, said that Congress would be seeking significant changes, in particular more social infrastructure, in key areas of the Operational Programmes that have yet to be finalised. In particular Congress wants, what it terms, the imbalance in favour of expenditure on roads rather than public transport corrected.
The Chambers of Commerce of Ireland has broadly welcomed the Plan. In a statement it said it welcomed the commitments to upgrading the transport infrastructure. It also welcomed the greater promotion of balanced regional development and investment in education and training measures as part of a strategy to tackle social exclusion. However, the CCI President Tom Clarke said the organisation is concerned about the extent to which the plan will enable small business to maintain competitiveness. The Dublin Chamber said that Dublin's traffic problems would only be partially alleviated through the planned expenditure of £1.6bn in the Plan.
The Community Platform organisation has said that the plan must mark the beginning of a new drive to eliminate poverty and inequality in Irish society. Community Platform is an umbrella group representing organisations fighting poverty and inequality. In his response to the Plan, the IFA President, Tom Parlon, said that the commitment to balanced regional development highlighted in the plan is a necessary and welcome feature, while the Chief Executive of Bord Failte John Dully has said the plan represents a milestone for the development of tourism.
The Western Development Commission also welcomed the Plan, which, it says, will give the West of Ireland a much fairer share of investment than previous plans and will have enormous implications for the development of the region. Chief Executive of the Commission, Liam Scollan, said that, if the plan is fully implemented, the current imbalance in the sharing of economic growth should be addressed and the people of the West should experience enhanced economic prosperity.
All ten recommendations for the West that were proposed by the commission in a document published in April are contained in the national plan. Mr. Scollan welcomed plans for major investment in national road and telecommunications infrastructure which he said would boost access from the West to outside markets, he said that it would have enormous implications for the development of the region. He also welcomed the plan's commitment to investment in indigenous industry in the west with emphasis on food, fish processing and farming sectors, such as organics.
Jim McDaid, the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation has welcomed the "generous provisions" in the Plan for programmes under the direction of his Department. Dr McDaid said that he was delighted to have secured an allocation of £150m for tourism marketing. He said that one of his top priorities since becoming Minister for Tourism has been to ensure that a significant fund would be put in place for marketing Ireland overseas as a top tourist destination in the new millennium. He also reiterated his commitment to partnership arrangements with the tourism industry, North and South.
The Irish Tourist Industry Confederation, the industry's representative body, has welcomed what it described as the "focus in the National Development Plan on further investment and expansion in tourism." Bord Fáilte has also welcomed the plan. The Irish Tourist Board's Chief Executive John Dully said that it was milestone for the development of tourism. The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Dr Michael Woods, has said that the £938m, which is earmarked for his department, underlined the government's commitment to what he described as "our most valuable indigenous assets".
The plan attracted some criticism from environmental quarters, Friends of the Irish Environment has announced that it has lodged a formal complaint to the European Commission over what it says is the Minister for Finance's failure to provide a "comprehensive ex-ante evaluation" of the environmental impact of the NDP as specifically required by the Commission. The Green Party spokesperson for Public Enterprise and Transport, Trevor Sargent has said the transport provisions in the NDP are weighted too heavily in favour of roads.