“Hollowed out” rural towns have been urged to rejuvenate themselves by reclaiming town centres for the artisan and agri food sector instead of letting them turn into “glorified car parks”.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said the “iconic” status of Cork’s English Market shows there is a substantial food and tourism economy which is waiting to be tapped into.
While Ireland’s economy is slowly recovering at a national level, Mr Creed said the reality is large parts of the country — including previously bustling provisional towns — are continuing to struggle with the dual jobs and emigration crises.
And despite admitting the problem cannot be solved overnight, he said new schemes encouraging communities to reclaim their local market centres could help to kick-start the recovery in the same way as the English Market has helped to sustain parts of Cork City.
“The English Market is obviously situated bang in the middle of a city, but there’s a great opportunity to build a tourism product and business product around that, and that can happen in every town.
“A lot of traditional market towns around Ireland but also in my constituency — Macroom, Millstreet, Kanturk, Charleville — all those towns suffered from being hollowed out, both in the recession and the boom times with big supermarkets on the outskirts pulling the life out of the town centre.
“Macroom’s a classic example, where it has a big square in the town which in recent years has become a glorified car park. So the potential possibilities to re-invigorate those places with farmers markets, tourism spin-offs, is enormous.
“The English Market is iconic, but the same can happen for a lot of smaller towns around Ireland.”
Mr Creed said while traditional food markets should play a role, the potential economic benefits from focussing on the recent surge in the artisan food and micro-breweries sectors cannot be overlooked.
Pointing to the fact the sectors already bring in up to €500m a year, he said the untapped funds could be vital to rejuvenating areas still struggling to recover from the economic crash.
“There’s enormous potential, particularly in the artisan food sector, it’s one of these sectors that in value terms is worth about €400-500m.
“It’s resilient, it’s recession proof. We are funding through the Cedra initiative an awareness out there of farmers markets and food trails, and part of the Irish tradition of story telling means you can weave a very interesting tourism story.
“There’s a great opportunity to build a tourism product around that, and have all of the associated spin-offs, not just in the area of those directly employed but in the tourism sector as well.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved