Outlining his vision for Wexford's future
Wexford County Manager Tom Enright is approaching the end of his first year in that role, and says he is committed to serving many more.
He sees success, potential, and challenges in varying degrees as he surveys the Model County, and says that overall, it is one of the most attractive in Ireland and has a great deal to offer.
Tom came to Wexford after spending most of his career with local authorities in Limerick, with two terms there sandwiched around a shorter stint with Wicklow County Council. He was centrally involved in recent years with the process to amalgamate Limerick and City Councils, and also in a major initiative - 'Limerick 2030' - to re-vitalise the city in terms of attracting new industry, enterprise, and retail development.
That plan is already enjoying early success and he is still keeping watch on its progress - albeit now from afar, as his focus now is fixed firmly on County Wexford and its development into the best it can be.
'I am here to do a job and I will be here for a number of years,' he states. 'A question I get asked a lot is will I think of moving on again, but that's not something I've any intention of doing. I don't believe it's right to take up a job as County Manager and to just stay a couple of years. It's a big commitment when you move to a job like this and it takes time to get things done.'
He says Wexford so far has been everything he expected, and more. 'We have a very good and committed staff in the council, the elected representatives are good to work with too, and the people here are very friendly and welcoming. It's a county with fantastic natural resources, scenic beauty, and very attractive towns, so there's much to offer'. One of the things he was partly - but pleasantly - surprised by was the number of high-profile companies here.
He name-checks Danone and Zurich in Wexford, Clearstream in Enniscorthy and Lake Region in New Ross as examples, and says their success can be utilised to attract more industry and commerce - but only if other requisite facilities are also in place.
'If we want to help companies that are growing, or attract new ones, we need property solutions that fit their needs,' he says. 'Showing somebody a greenfield site that's in private ownership and telling them it could be office space or a factory in two or three years is of no benefit. We have to get these property solutions, in terms of office space and advance factories, in place now, and we have to work together with the private sector to achieve that. We're developing a strategy on this which will be going through the SPC for Economic Development before being published probably in the Spring, and we're hopeful of making progress in this area.'
He says Wexford will also benefit in terms of becoming more attractive to investment by the construction of the Enniscorthy and New Ross bypasses, both due to begin later this year. 'They will provide connectivity in one direction to Dublin and in the other to Waterford and on to Cork,' he points out, before adding that they will provide great opportunities to both towns too.
'History shows that the vast majority of towns prosper after being bypassed, and perhaps both Enniscorthy and New Ross need to be revitalised in some way. They both have great potential as tourist towns, but they need to be preparing now so that they are marketed in that way and their potential is realised when the bypasses are complete. They will be much more attractive to visitors when large amounts of traffic, particularly heavy goods vehicles, are removed from the town centres, but they can't just wait for it to happen - they have to market themselves and encourage people to visit. I've already said this to the Chambers of Commerce in both towns, and we will work together to achieve this.'
Perhaps the biggest challenge Tom sees facing County Wexford is social housing, as there are some 3,600 applicants currently on the housing list and there is a government directive that such lists should be eradicated by the year 2020. He is hopeful however of meeting that challenge, both through the Council acquiring more land and building houses themselves, and also through working with private developers. This could mean utilising new legislation which will require ten per cent of units in new estates to be handed over for social housing, and also encouraging people who hold planning permission for developments that never started to commence work there, providing further housing units that way.
Other aspects of his vision for the future of County Wexford include the provision of recreational and tourism facilities and attractions, such as the provision of off-road cycle tracks. One that broadly follows the railway line from Wexford to Rosslare is currently being looked at, while others under consideration would follow sections of the former rail link between Rosslare and Waterford.
A tourist route to rival the west coast's 'Wild Atlantic Way' is another idea. He suggests a trail through counties Wicklow and Wexford, and a working title of 'The Ancient Trail', with several heritage sites singposted along the way for people to visit.
In his vision, it could be used to seek the tourist dollar of the many American visitors who currently travel from Dublin towards Killarney down the N7 each year, by encouraging them to follow the coastal route instead and enjoying all it has to offer.
'There are quite a few other projects that we are looking at too, that will be very beneficial on the community and recreational side of things. We can't go public on them yet but the next few months should see some important initiatives announced,' he says.
Overall, Tom professes him pleased with County Wexford and with what he can bring to it.
'I'm delighted to be here,' he says. 'I found the last year very challenging, rewarding, and enjoyable, and I'm looking forward to many more. We have very good and committed staff at all levels in the council, and we do our best at all times to serve the people of Wexford.'
County Manager - Wexford County Council
Native of Dungarvan, Co. Waterford
Married with three children - aged eight, six, and four
Studied at UCC, Cranfield University (UK) and later at DCU
Formerly Director of Services with Limerick County Council (2006 to 2012); Director of Limerick Reorganisation Implementation Group (2012 to 2014); and Director of Economic Development and Planning with Limerick City and County Councils (2012 - 2014)
Appointed Wexford County Manager in January 2014 and took up the role the following month.
A personal sacrifice Tom Enright has so far been making as he serves as County Manager is being separated from his family for large periods.
His wife and their three young children - aged eight, six, and four - still live in County Limerick, and every inch of the road across the country has become well known to them all as they journey in both directions as often as possible to spend time together.
However, the family are all due to move to Wexford when the current school year ends in June. The children have been enrolled in school here for next September, and Tom and his wife are currently seeking to buy a house in Wexford for them all to call 'home' together.
He admits that being away from them has been tough - 'though for the first few months, when I was settling in to all aspects of the job and then out so many evenings at different functions and meetings, they mightn't have seen very much of me anyway!' he adds.
He tells how the family spent last Summer with him in Wexford and much of the Christmas holidays too, and he is of course looking forward to when they join him permanently in a few months' time.
Outside of work - in the small bit of spare time he has! - Tom is a keen cyclist, who takes part with his wife in the Sean Kelly Cycle from his native town of Dungarvan each year, and who has also enjoyed the delights of Wexford between Rosslare and Curracloe from a saddle perched above two wheels.
In his younger days,rowing was his main sport. He enjoyed some success, once claiming a national schoolboys title when his own Dungarvan club amalgamated with Youghal for the championships, and only narrowly missing out on the chance to represent Ireland in international competiton.
He also rowed for UCC while studying engineering there, and points out too that the sport had him familiar with at least one part of County Wexford, long before he ever got a job here.
'We took part in the New Ross 'Head of the River' race every year,' he recalls. 'It was twelve miles long, which made it the longest race in Ireland. That was tough going!'