Friday 26 December 2014

Rural Ireland must act to protect its own future

Published 29/03/2014 | 02:30

IN a way, we all pay lip service to the idea of rural Ireland – even the people who live there. We hark back 46 years to John Healy's famous book 'Nobody Shouted Stop', a book few people have read, but everybody knows about because it touches a nerve for anyone with rural roots.

It was a prophesy that hasn't yet been fulfilled, but realistically Irish towns, villages and their rural hinterland have never before been under such threat. And it isn't just the closure of the post office, the garda station, the shop and, in some cases, the pub, nor the disappearance of sports teams, although all of these are adding to the sense of rural isolation that is almost palpable.

As these pillars of the local community fold, one by one, it is not only young people, but whole families who are uprooting themselves and moving within the city boundaries. An analysis of census data shows that rural communities have been decimated since the start of the recession, yet the national population was increasing during the same period. Far-flung destinations have their attraction but it is more likely that what people are attracted to are the bright lights of the nearest big city.

There is another aspect of life in rural Ireland that these statistics don't reveal. That is the strength of some progressive rural towns, whether it is through self-help or inspired leadership. These are towns that are attractive to those who live there and to visitors, places that provide the service to which people have become accustomed. It is all too easy to moan, but now is a time for leadership.

In that sense, maybe it is time for rural Ireland to look at itself and see what it can do to stem the tide. How many people living in rural Ireland drive by their local shops, stores and industries and drive inside the city boundaries to do their shopping, forgetting that by doing this they may save a few euro, but they too are contributing to the destruction of the ecosystem that keeps rural Ireland going?

It is also time to pay more than lip service to the problem. We have a whole system of tax breaks designed to encourage everything from high-performance stallions to writers and artists. If nothing else seems to be working, maybe we should consider a tax break for living outside city boundaries, a real and generous incentive that would put money back in people's pockets. There is no easy solution to what is known as 'the flight from the land.' For many people, the idea of 'rural Ireland' is a 'good thing' for somebody else, but not for themselves. If we are to keep its fabric, it needs to be a vibrant place where people want to live, work and play.

AMBULANCE SERVICE IS ON CRITICAL LIST

THE critical state of the National Ambulance Service should not become a political football or a battleground between the HSE and the National Ambulance Service Representative Association. It is too important for that. Firstly, we must acknowledge that we do not have the "best ambulance service in the world", despite the best efforts of many frontline staff. The executive who made this claim in an attempt to defend the service from serious charges levelled by RTE's 'Prime Time Investigates' has now clarified that he was talking about the quality of staff, their training, equipment and the vehicles available to them, compared with ambulance services internationally.

While he has every right to be proud of the service, recent reports of vehicles breaking down and other mishaps would not inspire public confidence. Nor would the arrival times of ambulances at the destinations for which they were required.

We have now learned that the service has recently commissioned a national capacity review to analyse the whole ambulance service. Overall, this will determine how the service is deployed in the coming years. It is imperative that this is carried out speedily. The HSE insists that despite cutbacks in health the budget for the ambulance service has increased.

There is no doubt whatever that the closure of local hospitals and emergency departments has led to an increasing workload on the service. Outside Dublin, ambulances are required to travel greater distances and that puts pressure on the service and the personnel.

We all want a good service, so we need everybody, whether management or workers, to unite to ensure that we get, if not the best ambulance service in the world, at least one that is fit for purpose and one on which we can all depend in our hour of need.

Irish Independent

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