No stopping now

Rose Doyle talks to some of the Ennis task force team that took the Information Age Town title to the Clare capital

In the Point Depot, on the winning night, the sense of camaraderie and team spirit was palpable amongst those who had worked on the Ennis project.

They’d been together for eight months, living and breathing their plans for the town all of that time, sharing strategies and the sheer hard graft of it all. Now it was champagne and celebration time and they were going to be together for that too.

But TJ Waters, president of Ennis Chamber of Commerce, wasn’t about to minimise the community effort, nor the groundwork advantages which the team began with. "It was eight months flat out work," he admitted, "but there was a buzz in Ennis to begin with, a feeling of confidence and a feel-good factor which gave things a real boost. We merely got the initial advice from Telecom Éireann and built on it the community took over very early on. Ennis is a fast-growing, dynamic and the programme was a ship we sailed in with the whole community.

"Everyone realised that if we got up and helped ourselves we’d get more of the sweets. Now that we’ve won, and with the commitment of the people to key into the great intangible, the possibilities are boundless." Ebullient, full of the feel-good factor himself, it was hard to imagine the humbler TJ Waters who, in the early days of planning, "went cap in hand" to seek support for the programme from Ennis Urban District Council. "The £15,000 we got that day set us up," he says now.

Triona McInerney, development officer with Ennis Chambers of Commerce, another lynch-pin member of the team, agrees that their work and programme was possible only because of the wide-ranging and whole hearted support they got from organisations in the area. "As well as the full backing of the Urban District Council, Clare District Council and the Ennis and County Enterprise boards, Ennis Chamber of Commerce had access to the whole of Shannon Development.

"We got support, too, from the University of Limerick, from UCG and the RTC’s in Galway and Limerick, from all the secondary and primary schools as well as the adult education institutions in and around Ennis. They all knew, of course, what the benefits would be to themselves and that it would have been ludicrous for them not to row in. It was the amount and extent of all of this help which us to put together such a comprehensive programme."

"This sense that the team behind the Ennis project involved the community at large, is reinforced by the view of Gerry O’Sullivan, head of corporate relations in Telecom Éireann. "Other teams had exceptional packages," he says, "but in Ennis the team had all the key people from the key sectors outlining where they were going with the programme and what they could do.

"We specially asks towns to validate the submissions they made and the Ennis team outlined in a real and encouraging way how they could optimise the Information Age. Their five-pillar approach was particularly impressive, with leaders of five areas giving reassurances about their ability to deliver. In the, we believed in the Ennis team’s ability to deliver."

Assistant county manager Tom Dowling wholeheartedly agrees that the united efforts of the spearheading team and the community was the key to the Ennis success story. "Ennis is all about community. Ennis has always been ready. Every member of the community rowed in on this one. The evidence was there through out the eight months, with people rowing in for 7 a.m., 8 a.m. and up to 8 p.m. meetings. Everyone in the county wanted in on it and the package we put together involved everyone in the community."

This united effort, and confidence, meant that almost 200 jobs were lined up in overseas companies, conditional on Ennis winning the competition. Lined up, too, was a parcel of land in the town, destined for digital-age factories and design studios. Commitment on the part of the team was total, a fact noted by organisers Telecom Éireann in its summary of the winning efforts.

"Traditional summer holidays were abandoned in favour of evaluating research proposals," says the summary, "attending meetings and holding detailed negotiations with local authorities, State and semi-State bodies, Government departments, chambers of commerce, third-level colleges, schools, health care providers, disability awareness groups, tourism bodies and employers, as well of dozens of other organisations, community groups and representatives bodies."

Telecom Éireann, commending the winners, acknowledged, too, the team’s "huge commitment in terms of time, energy, money and other resources, with thousands of volunteers joining committees and working groups."