The new scheme which plans to help revive rural Ireland

Rose Martin discusses a new scheme that offers help to rural dwellers living on local and private roads before looking further afield at an interesting incentive to revive a dying mountaintop town in Sardinia, Italy

Michael Ring at the National Park in Ballycroy, Co Mayo

Who is not in awe of the majestic omnipotence of the Irish Farmers’ Association — perhaps the greatest and most effective trade union in the history of this little State. It takes no prisoners in defence of its members and, for the most part, you hardly see it move. A good hard look at every finance bill, however, will show its power and the stealth-lobbying which only breaches the surface with the occasional rampaging herd of sheep or a cortege of tractors. Mere theatrics, however, are used to concentrate the minds of those not doing what they’re supposed to do.

And the other side of the IFA is just as powerful — a certain mammying of its members. D’IFA will tell them what they can get for nothing, half nothing, and make them aware of the buckshee percentage in every twist of a schedule or legislative sub-section. Thorough, brisk, efficient, and utterly ruthless, it looks after its members like babies.

We non-farming types don’t have the same nursing care and have to fend for ourselves in the byroads of a Bill or the ruts or a regulation, with, it appears, a fat chance of a free go on anything.

Occasionally, very occasionally, however, a crumb falls from the farmer’s table that benefits the cottager, too. As an aside, non-farming rural dwellers have to deal with a lot of D4-style moaning about McMansions, (such appalling taste, no?) and the divergence in property tax levels on one hand, and the green/planning lobby on the other bemoaning ‘one-off’ housing and the cost of provision of services on the other.

The other side to those arguments is that the rural dweller ends up paying for everything themselves — the well and the electricity required to pump water, the maintenance of hedgerows and roadways, the provision of external lighting; the provision of private transport in a good car and maintenance of such over atrocious roads; paying Vat and tax on petrol for the longer commute to work, and putting up with no light or heat at least twice a year due to failures or bad weather.

There’s a lot of investment in a healthier, fresh-air lifestyle, and sometimes there is no choice at all. The self-build house is the only cost-effective way to get a good-quality home if you get the site for free, or at a lower rate because you’re local. Very little comes free in the country, compared to the city — there is no Luas to convey you to the shops, no buses to take you to the cinema, and no taxis to take you back from the pub. They’re the small things — but the lifestyle makes up for the cost, the real cost of living outside a grid of support — including headliners like broadband.

The only easy way to live in the country is to be a farmer — you work where you are and you are well-supported in that lifestyle, thanks to the IFA keeping strong tabs on government. Last year saw a sop for the non-farming rural dweller, but a lot of people don’t know about it because — well, they’re not members of the IFA.

The fact is, the rural dweller living on a private, or unpaved, local road (not a driveway), will now be eligible to apply for a Local Improvement Scheme grant. Based on a 90/10 split, funding will be supplied for ‘local roads’ by the local council, but approval must be sought by the applicant and the 10% must be paid upfront, by the individual or neighbours clubbing together, before the work is undertaken.

A quick look online shows that some local authorities are touting the scheme with ready-to go-application forms. Cork County Council’s site, unless I’m mistaken, is not showing any details on this particular part of the scheme — but it’s worth putting in a call to check where and how you might make an application.

Here is part of a statement by Minister for Rural & Community Development Michael Ring on a new funding round of €10m for the scheme, announced on Wednesday: “This scheme is a lifeline for people living in rural areas because it directly improves their access to and from their homes and farms... “My department will be in contact with local authorities in the coming days and I would encourage each local authority to carefully compile a list of suitable roads for submission to the department. The lists should be based on their indicative funding allocation and their capacity to undertake and complete the works before the end of July 2018...

“In 2017, I allocated an initial €10m to participating local authorities and was able to allocate a further €7.4m to the scheme before the end of last year. The scheme was a great success and I received an unprecedented amount of positive feedback in relation to it”.

Bet he did — is there an election coming? Anyway, this part of the scheme is a very good thing indeed and, bottom line: Get in quick before the money’s all gone.

Also, and something else that non-farming rural dwellers mightn’t be aware of, is that there is a grant for hedge-cutting — more suitable perhaps to individuals acting in community, but applications must be made in the autumn preceding the spring cutting season. Applications close tomorrow but remember it for next year, before the nesting season.

And if blizzards and gales and electricity blackouts have seen you longing for a Mediterranean haven, then you could be in with a good chance because a Sardinian mountain-top town is offering homes for a euro apiece.

Sidari in Sardinia — the kind of waterside resort you’d have to choice to visit from a €1 house in the hills, being offered by the mayor of the town of Olloloi.

That’s right, it’s true, verified: The town of Olloloi, is in its death throes and its mayor has come up with the wheeze of offering rundown houses in the village for a euro to all comers. The catch is, the houses must be restored within three years or the sale is void.

One of several hundred historic homes, (read wrecks) are on offer from Mayor Arbau who told CNN: “My crusade is to rescue our unique traditions from falling into oblivion. We’ve always been tough people and won’t allow our town to die.”

A buyer will have to pony up between €20,000 and €30,000 for restoration, (try doing that here for the money) of the granite-hewn houses and up to a hundred offers have been made already in a town that’s quite out of the way. But then, for the same cost as a small car, you have a second home in the sun. One with warmth, magnificent countryside, great food and azure seas.

Viewers of Channel 4 might also have seen last night’s episode of The £1 House, where Liverpool council have done the same, with really positive and life-affirming results. A must-see, actually.

Could the affirmation-seeking Minister Ring try something similar for our dying villages and rural areas?

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