Cork County Council looks set to establish a special Rural Affairs Committee amid rising fears that many communities in North and West Cork are dying.
Councillors want the committee to “have teeth” and to access to finance in order to prop them up, plus they’re calling for a relaxation in planning regulations in rural areas.
The initial call for the setting up of such a committee came from Fine Gael councillor John O’Sullivan.
He said that with the city boundary extension on the way the county council would become a more rural-focused local authority.
“We have communities out there that are struggling to put out GAA teams because young people are leaving in droves,” said Mr O’Sullivan. “We need to adapt to help them, otherwise they will go below critical mass.”
Independent councillor Danny Collins urged council officials to set up the committee as soon as possible.
He said many rural businesses were struggling, with several closing during the winter months.
“We have to come up with ideas to improve our areas, especially for tourism,” said Mr Collins. “There are no young people joining voluntary groups in rural areas because they’re not there anymore.”
Fianna Fáil councillor Joe Carroll said West Cork needs Bantry to be declared as a hub town to sustain the Beara area.
“We need strong attention directed into West and North Cork,” he said.
Fine Gael councillor Mary Hegarty said it was important that the committee focused on employment creation in rural areas.
Fianna Fáil councillor Bernard Moynihan said that, in his area of north-west Cork, there was no tourism to rely on.
He spoke about a special Irish Examiner feature on rural decline in the village of Knocknagree as “an example of how some areas were decimated”.
The village has no post office, no shop, no petrol station and has seen its school population halved since the 1970s.
“There are a whole rake of villages where there are no shop, no post office, no creamery or pub,” said Mr Moynihan said.
The Fine Gael leader on the county council, Kevin Murphy, said the committee “would have to have finance and power otherwise it will be only a talking shop.”
Fianna Fáil councillor Bob Ryan said the affairs of rural Ireland have “been cast aside for many years by successive governments.”
“The people who control central government have very little interest in rural areas,” he said. “They want to centralise everything.”
His party colleague, Frank O’Flynn, said villages were dying before their eyes and young people could not build in their own areas because planning permissions were too restrictive.
“We might get the message up to floor three [planning department in County Hall],” said Independent councillor Alan Coleman.
Social Democrat councillor Joe Harris suggested the council could mount a campaign to get people to move to rural areas.
Council chief executive Tim Lucey said he had agreed to facilitate discussions within the council’s Strategic Policy Committee to work on a special community strategy which would have a strong emphasis on rural affairs.