By Caroline O'DohertySenior Reporter
The former head of the Government commission on rural Ireland has pleaded for an end to the view of rural communities as a problem and burden on the rest of the country.
Cathal O’Donoghue said there was a preoccupation with post office closures and farm prices at both public and official level, with debate limited to stereotypes and dominated by the view that communities were in decline.
He said any hope of rejuvenating the rural economy would require proper understanding of both the complexity of the challenges faced in rural Ireland and the richness of the resources available there.
“We shouldn’t pigeonhole rural Ireland as a burden and a problem but rather, if it is mobilised, it can be part of the solution,” he said.
Prof O’Donoghue was chief executive of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA), which concluded its reports to Government over a year ago, and spoke at the start of the Irish Examiner’s week-long series on rural communities.
Each day this week, we visit a different village or town to hear first-hand the difficulties caused by the economic collapse of recent years and the specific significance for rural areas.
We see communities that have lost post offices, Garda stations, all local retail outlets, and a disproportionate number of their young people, and that have yet to catch sight of the recovery beginning to appear in the main urban centres.
However, we also see that while they have lost vital services and lack infrastructure, they have not lost community spirit and display huge determination to fight back — with or without Government support.
Rural Ireland is being targeted as a hunting ground for votes in the pre-election period, with Fine Gael last month launching its Standing Up For Rural Ireland campaign.
The campaign restates many of the goals identified by CEDRA as necessary for the recovery and sustainability of rural areas in its report of April last year which has yet to be adopted into a national policy or strategy for rural Ireland.
While the communities we visited show great resolve and imagination, the psychological scars of being left behind are also evident.
One woman we met, who was gutted by the loss of her local post office, said with unintended poignancy: “There isn’t really much out in the country, only people.”
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