SAVING Rural Ireland is something that needs to be written into national policy, according to Muintir na Tíre CEO Niall Garvey at the launch in Dublin of a new campaign to highlight inequalities between urban and rural areas,
The campaign sees six rural bodies join forces: Muintir na Tíre, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, the Irish Postmasters’ Union, Macra na Feirme and the Irish National Flood Forum.
They have come together to try and halt what is seen by many as the gradual decline of rural Ireland, and the message was clear from all bodies that the government has to act soon to ensure the survival of rural Ireland: ‘We need a national policy for rural Ireland; there isn’t an overall policy at present,’ said Mr Garvey.
The association’s president, Paddy Byrne, urged everyone present to use every available form of networking to try and help the cause of those most affected in rural Ireland.
The issues that need to be tackled are wide and varied but the organisations have identified the following initial issues: rural broadband, post office viability, control of scrap metal, insurance in flood areas and GP cover. In their policy document they have identified practical solutions to each of these issues.
‘The department of finance can’t be allowing cherry-picking when it comes to insuring homes against floods,’ declared Jer Buckley, Irish National Flood Forum PRO. ‘Insurance companies are refusing to provide flood insurance in many towns. This situation needs to be tackled.’
Liz Wall, president of the ICA said that among the association’s 10,000 members, there was a strong feeling that rural Ireland was being ‘totally destroyed.’ She added: ‘When the post office goes, then so does the shop. And now the number of buses are being reduced.”
There have been over 1,100 post office closures nationwide, but only 22 of those closures have occurred since 2010. However, Ned O’Hara, general secretary of the Irish Postmasters Union, feels there were no concrete decisions taken at government level to safeguard the future of rural post offices: ‘Every TD and politician will tell us that they love the post office and that they love rural Ireland but few seem capable of ensuring there aren’t further closures.’
The slow speeds, or complete lack, of broadband in many rural areas is something that needs to be addressed, and ICSA president Patrick Kent felt that the long-term plan is too far away for many people. ‘The broadband is not up to stand in many places and this is simply not good enough. It needs to be brought up to speed.’
Mr Kent pointed to the fact that applications for many new schemes for farmers had to be made online, thus increasing the necessity for better broadband speeds in rural areas.
Regulating the scrap metal industry and ensuring that the cuts in the GP Rural Practice Allowance are reversed were other areas that the Muintir na Tire CEO Niall Garvey said also require action from government level.
A number of rural-based TDs and senators voiced their support for the initiative at the launch and, in the coming weeks, the associations involved will be pressing ministers to implement these cost-effective and practical solutions and to develop a national policy for rural Ireland.