JOE GILL: Sewage and broadband failures blight forgotten rural Ireland

Thankfully, the Environmental Protection Agency has the independence and mandate to point out to us all the many uncomfortable facts about the state of the country.

Bear in mind, the failures identified by the EPA are not the fault of climate change or other factors over which we have no direct control.

Rather, they are the outcomes of willful decisions by city and county authorities, overseen by local and national politicians, not to prioritise the matters raised by the EPA and which need urgent and dramatic actions.

The hard facts in the latest report are that no fewer than 38 towns and villages discharge raw sewage into their local community water systems. Sea water and fresh water are both exposed to this mindless behaviour.

Aside from killing natural wildlife and polluting rivers and seas, these actions are putting human health at risk.

And there is an unwillingness to address the problem head-on.

Half the water discharges analysed by the EPA fail national pollution and health standards.

This all happens in a country that spends millions of euros telling the world that it is a producer of natural, healthy foods and which advertises itself as a place where tourists should flock to experience an unpolluted natural environment.

The hypocrisy is cringe-inducing.

The EPA document got reported as part of the 24-hour media cycle, but conveniently melted away quickly.

I did not spot any of those people on the loud marches opposing water charges also mobilising to fight on behalf of the food or tourism industries.

Neither were too many local or national politicians on the airwaves explaining why the authorities who are responsible cannot resolve this issue as a priority.

Most of the urban areas named by the EPA are outside the capital. Perhaps that gives us a greater hint about how rural Ireland is really valued in Ireland’s body politic.

I thought about this at the weekend, while staying in a rented house in east Clare.

Friends of ours travelled from the US to be with us.

Their efficient flights arrived on time.

They hired a car at a competitive price and drove on good roads into the heart of rural Ireland.

During the weekend, they and I had to do some work online.

And guess what? The wifi coverage was utterly pathetic.

If we are serious about leveraging the advantages of rural life in Ireland, then providing ample broadband coverage has all the importance that electrification had during the 1940s.

Back then, electricity transformed people’s lives.

Today, broadband has the same potential, because it empowers distant-working, connects local business to global markets, and underpins tourism.

Yet, in October 2018, I sat there watching the signal strength ebb on my device and disappear, preventing me from connecting with the office and from choosing entertainment venues for the weekend.

How are local businesses expected to tolerate that level of service?

These two tales, of the EPA report and the broadband debacle, are intertwined indictments of how rural Ireland is being sacrificed on the altar of centralised power. The capital and the east coast are the priorities on political agendas.

Hopefully, some political party can tap into the anger and resentment of voters who have to endure polluted waters and who have no wifi, when those voters are next asked to choose a government.

Without some form of resistance, the prevailing behaviours will have us reporting another lousy EPA report on another dodgy wifi line, 12 months from now.

<i>Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are his own.</i>


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