GAA president Liam O’Neill has suggested a scheme where the GAA and rural organisations could generate funds which could be matched by the Government to create thousands of jobs.
He said the GAA, which has almost 2,000 clubs countrywide, the Irish Rural Dwellers’ Association (IRDA) and others, could form groups with anything from 100 to 1,000 members, with each member contributing €2 per week towards a jobs fund.
“Ideally, you would have 1,000 members in a group. That would raise €100,000 in a year, which could create quite a few jobs,” he said.
Delivering the keynote address at a conference on rebuilding rural communities, he believed the proposal could generate between 5,000 and 10,000 jobs nationally.
Mr O’Neill stressed he was speaking personally, but said he knew the GAA would back the idea if other organisations were willing to get involved.
“If we had 1,000 communities working on this, the amount of money raised would be staggering and the Government would have to back it and act on it,’’ he told delegates at the IRDA conference in Ballygarry House Hotel, Tralee.
He also proposed a competitive element, which might be modelled on the All-Ireland GAA championships, or Tidy Towns, with prizes for county, regional and national winners.
The competition could be sponsored by some major company, with extra funding to be provided to the winners.
“If we could pilot this idea with other organisations, it would help lift the gloom. If we want to keep people in rural Ireland, we must have jobs in rural Ireland,” he said. “The problems of rural Ireland will not be solved by the Government alone and we should be prepared to set the ball rolling and do something. Rural Ireland, through the GAA, has to stand up for itself.”
As well as creating jobs, he maintained genuine enterprises could be backed by the fund.
Dr Brendan O’Keeffe, a geography lecturer in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, said Ireland stood out among modern European countries in terms of the percentage of population living in its capital city.
He said we are on a par with Cyprus and Greece in terms of how many of our people lived in Dublin, or the Dublin area, now, and the EU average was about half this country’s.
Environmentally, the policy was unbalanced, Dr O’Keeffe maintained. Most of the commuting was done not in rural Ireland but in the Dublin region, where a one-and-a-half hour commute was quite common. Huge urban centres were too much of a drain on water resources also. To regenerate, rural Ireland needed to move away from county geography and regional authorities should be rethought and strengthened.
He also called for a strengthening of local government and for an upcoming, new, national, spatial strategy to be put on a statutory footing.
Betty-Ann Bryce, of the Paris-based Rural and Regional Development unit of the OECD, said it had been proven that rural regions could have faster growth than urban areas and many rural populations were now revitalising themselves in other countries.
Population density was not necessary for high performance and large companies, such as Wal-Mart in the US, were basing themselves in rural areas.
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