Re­port that ru­ral Ire­land is dy­ing is hardly a shock but what will be done?

The Sligo Champion - - OPINION -

IN news that should come as a sur­prise to pre­cisely no-one, a new high-pro­file re­port has ‘re­vealed’ that ru­ral Ir­ish towns have been dec­i­mated since the re­ces­sion and many are dy­ing. The re­port car­ried out by the So­ci­ety of Char­tered Sur­vey­ors Ire­land has found that a ‘per­fect storm’ has ripped the heart out of many ru­ral towns and most are find­ing it im­pos­si­ble to re­cover.

Amongst their stark find­ings, the re­searchers be­hind the re­port found that a lack of lo­cal lead­er­ship and the ris­ing trend of outof-town re­tail de­vel­op­ments helped catal­yse the huge de­cline in ru­ral towns since the fi­nan­cial crash.

The ma­jor­ity of small Ir­ish towns were ill-pre­pared for the re­ces­sion, and with­out high-speed broad­band they are ham­strung in how they can re­cover, ac­cord­ing to the re­port by the So­ci­ety of Char­tered Sur­vey­ors Ire­land (SCSI).

While the re­port it­self was a wor­thy ex­er­cise, the re­ac­tion to it in Dublin me­dia cir­cles bor­dered on the bizarre.

The man­ner in which many na­tional print and broad­cast me­dia out­lets seized on the re­port’s find­ings sug­gests they have only just re­alised that ru­ral Ire­land may be suf­fer­ing.

It’s not as if the peo­ple who live in ru­ral Ir­ish towns haven’t been try­ing to high­light these ex­act is­sues for decades.

The de­cline of ru­ral Ire­land is not break­ing news. It hasn’t hap­pened sud­denly and it dates back to long be­fore the re­ces­sion.

Many of the towns in­cluded in the re­port never re­ally felt the ben­e­fit of the boom and were in the eco­nomic dol­drums years be­fore the fi­nan­cial crash.

Again and again peo­ple have tried to raise the cri­sis fac­ing ru­ral Ire­land only to be ig­nored as the na­tional fo­cus re­mained squarely on Dublin.

That fre­quently heard jibe about the two Ire­lands – in­side and out­side the Red Cow Round­about – didn’t come from nowhere.

In their re­port the SCSI iden­tify many prob­lems fac­ing small towns. These in­clude ex­ces­sive rates; high in­sur­ance costs; un­even pop­u­la­tion growth; high unem­ploy­ment; poor broad­band; on­line com­pe­ti­tion and a lack of lo­cal lead­er­ship.

These dif­fi­cul­ties will be grimly fa­mil­iar to any­one try­ing to run a busi­ness in ru­ral Ire­land but it is nice that some­one in Dublin seems, fi­nally, to have no­ticed.

SCSI’s re­searchers do set out a roadmap for re­cov­ery, high­light­ing in clear terms what can and should be done to halt ru­ral Ire­land’s seem­ingly ter­mi­nal de­cline.

The rec­om­men­da­tions make for in­ter­est­ing read­ing and are very well thought out. Whether any­one in Gov­ern­ment will ever act on them is another mat­ter en­tirely.

Past ex­pe­ri­ence would, un­for­tu­nately, sug­gest that we shouldn’t hold out much hope. With a Gen­eral Elec­tion loom­ing we’ ll likely be hear­ing an aw­ful lot about what the par­ties have done or will do for ru­ral Ire­land.

Peo­ple in ru­ral ar­eas have heard it all be­fore. They want ac­tion, not more empty plat­i­tudes.

Un­til then we can keep our­selves amused by wait­ing for the na­tional me­dia to learn that the Pope is Catholic and bears favour forests for their lava­to­rial needs.

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