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LETTER: Shaping debate on future of rural Ireland

December 2nd, 2017 5:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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SIR – All the international research tells us that the social world order is rapidly changing under our noses from a Social Welfare State to a Social Investment State.

SIR – All the international research tells us that the social world order is rapidly changing under our noses from a Social Welfare State to a Social Investment State. This change is underpinned by a new way of looking at the State and the role of Government in our lives. 

There are only a small number of key principles that underpin this new way of doing politics and the economy and, once grasped, they can be clearly seen and heard in Irish radio and television debates.

In this letter, I want to share some of these key principles. I will then move to show how I heard them all mentioned in the last of the four debates on TV3 presented by David McWilliams when he was discussing the Future of Rural Ireland. I will then briefly explore some implications.

The first key principle is that everything is viewed from the position of the ‘competitive individual’ and no matter what you are talking about be it health, education etc. it is only the individual that can be considered , the second key principle is that the ‘individual’ acts as an ‘entrepreneur’ and, no matter what happens, they are expected to work on themselves and build their own resilience and the third key principle is that the individual stops looking in the direction of the State for support and the State itself starts to work as a diminished State relying on the markets at all times and has no role under any circumstances in interfering in the markets.

This change in the social order arises from a new policy of economics. To be successfully implemented, it requires new politics, new symbolic cultural forms and new reforms across all public services, including , agriculture, fisheries, schools and hospitals, etc. Problems in the past that were shared and seen as social problems are nowadays regarded as problems of the failing individual, in the case of education the blame is shifted toward the ‘failing quality teacher,’ in agriculture ‘the poor quality farmer,’ in the case of health blame is being shifted toward the ‘failing doctor’ or ‘nurse,’ etc.

So what did I hear when I dissected the last debate on the future of rural Ireland presented by David McWilliams on TV3 on Thursday night, November 23rd, 2017? I heard most of the talk was based on Dublin and everything else was based on markets 

There was no suggestion by David or either of the other two economists in the audience that any case should or could be made to show preference to interfere in the markets in areas of low population density in order to bring 21st century services to these areas and start to generate a new quality of life in our Irish rural towns, villages and hinterland. In fact, the argument made was worse than this.

It was suggested that Dublin was subsiding all the other cities and, instead, the country needed to be broken up into distinct cities with their elected mayors who had powers to raise their own taxes. All this thinking is aligned with the new ‘go-it-alone’ philosophy of the new Social Investment State. 

David wound up the programme giving two examples of young people who had set up small businesses in Rural Ireland and this helped him make the point that people needed to stop looking towards the State or industry for solutions and show the resilience needed to do it for themselves, just like these young people who had become self-employed.

So what are the implications for the future of rural Ireland? This is something we have started seriously discussing in a new grouping of interested citizens, which we are calling Rural Ireland Matters (if you want to know more you email us on :  

[email protected]). As our politicians and economists are only ever acting nowadays on whatever they write down on their strategic plans, it appears increasingly important that a ground movement of interested citizens gets involved in shaping this debate. 

If the strategic plan for rural Ireland is to let the markets dictate, then we can all turn the lights out. Sadly, what Is all too clear is that there is no national plan any time soon for imaginative leadership in relation to fresh thinking about this problem. 

If Ireland as a small country is split up into ‘individual’ cities struggling for their ‘own’ resources, then the concept of community and any notion of public good will be gone as everything is turned into commodity. 

According to the key principles I have outlined above, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.


Michael O’Sullivan,


Rural Ireland Matters.


Castletownbere, and



Secretary and

Senior Lecturer in

Education at 

University of Limerick.

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