Rural Ireland is not dying and is a far better place than what the “knockers and naysayers” say, according to a Fine Gael minister.
The comments made by Tom Hayes are likely to anger farming and community groups who have seen post offices, bank branches, garda stations and shops close across rural Ireland.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Hayes claimed: “We talk down rural Ireland and there are people who really frighten people when they don’t examine the success of rural Ireland.” The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture added that rural Ireland is “vibrant” adding the numbers of young farmers remaining on the land is a “real success story”.
Some 139 Garda stations closed between 2011 and 2015, and there was a net closure rate of 24 post offices between 2011 and 2014.
At present 63% of Ireland’s population is defined as living in an urban area — a big increase from the 1960s when the majority still lived in rural areas.
The UN expects urbanisation to increase in Ireland along European lines, reaching 75% by 2050.
“There is a concern about rural Ireland, and I live in rural Ireland I live a mile and half from the village of Golden,” said the Tipperary TD. “When I was young there were two gardaí and four people working in the creamery. Today there is only one garda there but there are 120 people in a mushroom plant outside the village, which people forget altogether about.
“Rural Ireland is changing. It’s not dying. It’s changing rapidly, and people are commuting more to work and there is no place better to live and rear a family than rural Ireland.”
Mr Hayes said the education system and school buildings in country areas have improved considerably.
He added that many rural communities are now “within striking distance of a motorway — you can drive an hour and a half to Dublin or Cork or Limerick”.
“I have no doubt it’s changing, but it’s changing for the better and this talk of it dying — it’s not dying it’s actually very vibrant, but people’s habits are changing
“Modern communications allows them to work in a rural area, live in a rural area and commute to work or they can do it via electronic means.
“I know my next-door neighbour, to give you an example, she is an accountant, worked in Cork, driving up and down every day. She is now two or three days a week working from home.”
However, with broadband unavailable in many areas, community groups and businesses say it is impossible to work in isolated or rural locations. Earlier this year, the Government promised to roll out state-subsidised fibre broadband to 700,000 homes and businesses in rural Ireland by 2020.
However, Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman Michael McGrath recently said there is now a major issue with the population drifting towards the east coast and urban areas, which has been exacerbated by the lack of broadband and other infrastructures in rural regions.
Mr Hayes said: “Broadband is a huge challenge. We have a plan in place. It is slow and I understand people’s frustration. But when broadband is in and people can connect I think the future of rural Ireland is in a far better place than what the knockers and naysayers say.”
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