How rural Ireland can tap the new agenda to bring jobs and wealth

The term “out of sight, out of mind” struck me last week when watching the debate about President Donald Trump’s visit to Ireland. Some people were in a lather about the lack of protests, especially at Doonbeg, the Co Clare village near Mr Trump’s golf resort.

International media had gathered in the area waiting for some form of controversy that could help drive headlines. None arrived. A week later the media attention has moved on and Doonbeg, like so many towns and villages across Ireland, will revert to the issues that matter most to it.

Jobs and economic investment are the keys to maintaining the population of these areas and to helping them to grow and prosper. The same themes were apparent during a visit I took to Castletownbere, at the far reaches of the Beara Penninsula. The town’s history provides some interesting insights to the power of connectivity and international connections.

It was the construction of a major road linking the town with Bantry and beyond that provided a huge transport link for the fishing industry. In the early part of the last century, the presence of both the Royal and US navies provided the economic boost that gave the town employment and an injection of wealth.

For the future, our rural and coastal economies need some powerful allies to support their communities but these have to be mutually beneficial relationships. Investment has to be connected with trends and movements that have a global resonance which justify spending large amounts of money in support of new forms of economic development.

Tying these threads together you can get a sense of the potential to advance the economy of rural Ireland. Tourism and seafood are sectors that offer even greater potential than has so far been realised.

But there is another even bigger issue to debate. The rapid political shift towards environmental awareness opens up a huge opportunity for Ireland, and especially in the country and along the coast.

Instead of fearing the environmental agenda we should embrace it to position Ireland at the front end of a movement to protect and enhance the rural and ocean environments. The large institutional frameworks that support agriculture and seafood — the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy — are likely to pivot materially in favour of policies that underpin and protect sustainability and biodiversity.

Combining those policy changes with a product range that meets the needs of today’s consumers can give Ireland an even better platform to enhance its reputation for quality food.

I suspect the average European taxpayer will become more favourably disposed to supporting new environmental agendas than the existing frameworks of intervention and price supports.

In turn, that largesse could be tapped by Ireland to invest in systems and infrastructure that monitor and deliver a rural and ocean environment which helps manage climate change and its consequences.

A major programme to make Ireland a focal point of sustainable and environmentally-friendly farming and fishing can support the family farm concept and augment the Irish tourism brand, if properly managed. It could also unleash large amounts of investment by the EU and others to support such change.

One image stuck in my mind about President Trump’s visit last week. It was the small group of local national school kids who met him on the golf course. There are similar kids all over rural Ireland and it is up to community leaders to work hard figuring out ways to create jobs that help them stay at home and build their future.

Joe Gill is director of origination and corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.

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