Has rural Ireland been forgotten by those ‘above in the Dáil’? Mark Costigan, who left the buzz of Dublin-based politics for a more relaxed life in West Cork, says the capital is like a black hole sucking the youth and energy into the East.
First of all, I’m not an expert. I’m a journalist. I’m curious. I like asking questions.
But in 2005 I was asked to become the deputy government press secretary, answerable to PD leader Mary Harney. I stayed in communications for over 10 years, working for three different governments – FF/PD, FF/Green/PD and I got rehired as a departmental spokesperson in the Fine Gael/Labour government. The job of a spokesperson – the maxim goes – is to try to defend the indefensible and explain the inexplicable. I know that feeling well.
This is true. When I got the job initially in 2005 I asked could I have the newspapers delivered to my home. The very first set of papers included a property section with holiday homes in Glengarriff and we decided to buy one. The economic crash was just around the corner.
We’re still in negative equity on that house. But never once did we regret the purchase. For a decade we would come to Cork when we could to get a break from Dublin. Then four-and-a-half years ago we decided to sell up completely in Dublin and come and live here full-time. For me there is no comparison. It’s like going from two dimensions to three, from black and white to colour. Instead of a blur of people in a concrete frame, we are humbled to live in a magnificent landscape that will remain beautiful long after we are gone and forgotten. And, even better – we actually know our neighbours.
So is rural Ireland forgotten in Dublin? What does the government do? What does the government concentrate on? Well let me tell you, one of my strongest recollections is the amount of energy the government expended on just cleaning up spilt milk. Nearly every day the greatest panic was to get material to best explain in the Dáil some government action already taken.
The greatest desire of a government is simply to remain in power. But of course decisions are taken too.
The outgoing government will tell you of the additional €1bn available for rural regeneration over the next seven years.
But the survival of rural Ireland will require more than a rural regeneration fund.
Dublin is currently a bit like a black hole sucking youth and energy to the east coast.
The popular wisdom is that young people should get a degree, often seen as the passport to bright lights.
Many young people feel they have to leave home. Like most, I’d prefer to have a decent trade and stay in my rural community.
Yes, rural survival will require an influx of cash, but also a strategic fight by us, the people who live here.
A guy from IDA Ireland told me once that ‘people like doing things for people who do things for themselves’.
Our politicians must bang the drum in Dublin, but perhaps more importantly they must bang the drum here at home, getting people together to figure out what we really need and how to get it.
• Mark Costigan is a journalist and former deputy government press secretary