BY JACKIE KEOGH
‘USE it, or lose it,’ was the stark message that the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring, TD, had for people who are looking to the government to save rural post offices.
In a broad-ranging interview that the Minister gave during his visit to West Cork on Wednesday, he claimed West Cork is getting ‘its fair share’ of funding from his newly-established department, but he stressed the need for everyone to play a role in supporting local services.
The Minister said: ‘People can’t expect to have post offices if they don’t use them – the only time that people stand in post offices and talk about post offices is when they are closing.’
Minister Ring said the government had closed very few post offices, but there is a review being carried by An Post that will come before the government over the next few months.
Put simply, he said, if people want post offices in their communities, they are going to have to use them.
‘Let’s not pretend,’ he said, ‘nearly 80% of people in this country tax their car online: they won’t even go into their local post office.’
Michael Ring was made spokesman on Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in 2007, but it was in June of this year – a decade later – that he was elevated to the newly-created role as Minister for Rural and Community Development.
Minister Ring said the significance of that is ‘we now have a minister at cabinet table representing rural affairs.’
He paid tribute to the Taoiseach for creating a specific department for rural affairs and said he sees his role as ‘making every other minister accountable in relation to rural Ireland.’
Minister Ring said his department has already delivered in West Cork, including the allocation of €152,000 to Ludgate, which Adrienne Harrington, the organisation’s CEO, said would be used to enhance its facilities, such as additional meeting rooms.
Minister Ring described the Ludgate project as being ‘an example’ for the rest of the country and he paid tribute to the board of Ludgate for creating a unique resource, and helping to make Skibbereen a 1GB town.
He said funds in the amount of €80,000 were also allocated under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme for a new village plaza in Drinagh, plus €100,000 for the eagerly awaited Clonakilty Cycleway and Walkway.
The Minister, accompanied by both County Mayor Declan Hurley (Ind) and Minister Jim Daly (FG) did a tour of The Ludgate Hub in Townshend Street before travelling to Drinagh to turn the sod on the new village plaza project.
The Minister also had a meeting with members of the hugely successful Clonakilty Tidy Towns Committee before turning the second sod of the day at the Clonakilty Cycleway and Walkway project.
Later in the afternoon the Minister for Rural Affairs also went ‘walkabout’ in Bandon, following a meeting at the office of Minister Jim Daly TD.
Speaking to The Southern Star in Skibbereen, the Mayor of County Cork, Cllr Declan Hurley (Ind), highlighted the positive impacts of the Town and Village Renewal Scheme is having in the locality, saying: ‘Cork County Council received over €1.34 million for 15 towns across the county under the 2017 scheme.
‘It is money that is being used to create heritage trails, enhanced streetscapes, support economic development, and support tourism initiatives that will bring more visitors to West Cork.’
The Minister also pointed out that he gave Cork County Council €1 million for a Local Improvement Scheme that had been defunct for years, but has been reintroduced by his department.
He said the Local Improvement Scheme would benefit West Cork because many of the roads that are not under the care of Cork County Council could be improved using that the scheme.
The Minister said his department had also put over €13million into the Leader programme; €1.8 million into SICAP, the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme; €1.3million into the Town and Village Renewal Scheme in Cork County alone; as well as additional funding to the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme; the CLAR Programme, and the Rural Recreation programme.
Minister Ring told The Southern Star: ‘West Cork has got its fair share of that kind of funding.’
When asked if his department’s 2017 allocation is sufficient to meet the task of rural and community development, Minister Ring offered another rebuke.
He said: ‘My big problem at the moment is to get the local authority to actually spend the funding that I have given them, and that includes Cork.
‘I might ask your newspaper to remind the county councils to spend the funding that they’ve got. And, if you want a list of that funding, we will give it to you, showing what they haven’t spent.’
Looking to next year, he said: ‘There is €13million under the Leader programme to be spent in Cork. It has taken some time. There have been difficulties here. But now that it is up and running I hope to see that funding being spread into every corner of Cork, particularly West Cork, because Leader will fund many jobs and projects.’
The minister said there is also a push to connect ‘real rural areas’ with better broadband services. And, he commented on his visit to West Cork – which was facilitated by Minister Jim Daly – saying: ‘It has given me an insight into how vibrant communities working together,’ as well as pledging the Government’s ongoing commitment to delivering large and small scale projects for the people of Cork.