‘Stand up and fight’ changes to rural services, says campaigner

A community campaigner has called on rural Ireland to “stand up and fight” for the retention of social and economic services.

The West Cork Communities Alliance is leading the charge and is opposed to environment minister Phil Hogan’s plans to put community-run projects under local authority control.

“Services such as rural bus links, rural hospitals, rural post offices, and the Leader development network are all under threat,” said local activist Con McCarthy, who heads WCCA.

“At the moment, Leader funding and rural transport is non-political and there is a huge volunteer ethos involved in these organisations.

“My fear is that if these services are placed under the responsibility of a local authority, a political element will be involved. Currently, each project is judged on its value to the community— if this value to the community is not of prime importance, rural Ireland is going to have a major problem retaining its much-needed services.”

Kilbrittain-based Mr McCarthy chaired a public meeting in Skibbereen, Co Cork, where attendees voiced strong opposition to Mr Hogan’s plans to implement sweeping changes to the role and independence of local development companies.

The alignment of Leader companies with local councils is due to take effect around 2016.

The proposals will remove many key functions of the local development companies and transfer responsibilities to one 15-member socioeconomic committee in each city and county council.

Brendan O’Keeffe of UL’s Mary Immaculate College outlined Government proposals in his presentation. “I’m not at all surprised at tonight’s turn-out in West Cork,” said Dr O’Keeffe. “There is no doubt about it, since Minister Phil Hogan published this document last year, people up and down the country have been motivated in their opposition to these proposals.

“Indeed, Kerry County Council have this week voted unanimously to oppose these alignment proposals and I hope that Cork County Council members will follow this example and send a similar message to the minister as well.”

Many people attending the meeting expressed disappointment that not one of the region’s three elected Dáil deputies, all attached to Government parties, attended. “We contacted Michael McCarthy, Jim Daly, and Noel Harrington. We received an apology only from Mr Harrington,” said WCCA press officer Michael Collins.

“We invited the county manager Martin Riordan and he also declined.

“This is not good enough. They need to listen to and represent the people who elected them.”

County councillors Pat Murphy (FF), from Bantry, and Courtmacsherry-based John O’Sullivan (FG) gave a commitment to table a motion of opposition to the alignment proposal at the next meeting in County Hall.


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