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Is the whole of the Irish economy really on the road to recovery?

Shop owner Matt O'Brien
Image caption Men's clothier Matt O'Brien (left) says branching out into other areas has helped his Longford town business

At one end of the main thoroughfare in the centre of Longford town is the shopping centre that never opened.

All glass and concrete beside a fast-flowing stream, the Longford Town Centre was to be a cathedral of commerce - now it stands as a monument to the end of the Celtic Tiger and the Republic of Ireland's economic crash and burn.

But local traders believe the bad times are slowly changing.

Matt O'Brien runs a family-owned men's clothing shop in the town centre.

Recent years have been bad - 30% down on the boom - with a member of staff having to be laid off.

But he can now see a turnaround.

Image caption This shopping centre in Longford town was built but has never opened

"Over the last year we've noticed that business has increased, although it was coming from a low base, but we have improved," he says.

"We've done extra things to try to improve things. We've got into childrenswear and we do a very substantial dress-hire business. We've branched out into other areas, which have helped us."

Investment

Fianna Fáil, the main opposition party, is highly critical of how the Fine Gael-Labour coalition is dealing with the midlands, arguing that the half-a-billion euro investment in water meters that won't be operational for several years should instead be spent on broadband improvement.

Its local TD Robert Troy accuses the government of negligence and says a targeted approach is needed for the area.

"The Industrial Development Authority (IDA) haven't brought one potential client to Longford in over four years," he says.

Image caption Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy has accused the government of negligence towards the midlands

"And if the IDA, which is charged with bringing foreign direct investment to the regions, isn't marketing Longford, isn't showing Longford to potential clients, how then can we expect foreign direct investment to come to Longford?"

But the government says it is doing its bit for County Longford, with the recent announcement that holiday company Center Parcs hopes to employ about 1,000 people at its planned tourism development in Ballymahon in the county when it opens in 2019.

However, the proposed 200m euro (£146m) centre in 340 acres of wooded area still has to get planning permission.

Tourists

Nevertheless, James Bannon, the local Fine Gael TD, is confident the venture will be a success.

He says: "The midlands has some of the finest scenery and watersports that you could avail of anywhere in the world.

Image caption Holiday company Center Parcs plans to open a family resort at this wooded site in Ballymahon, County Longford

"You have the Shannon, just three miles from here you have the River Inny, you have the Royal Canal, you have huge infrastructure here and we're always open for new tourists to come in to this area."

The Center Parcs announcement will not harm the government's chances in next year's expected general election, but traders like Matt O'Brien believe more could be done to boost local business.

Beginnings

"At the moment a lot of people are unhappy at paying for parking on the street," he says.

"Some of our neighbouring towns don't have parking charges. There are issues with the council and if we had free parking it would help bring more people into the town."

So, the message coming from the midlands is that while it, too, is starting to see the beginnings of an economic recovery more still needs to be done.

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