Farm Ireland

Monday 20 November 2017

Broadband issue in rural Ireland is shamefully ignored by politicians

Broadband availability is an issue in rural Ireland.
Broadband availability is an issue in rural Ireland.
John Downing

John Downing

People living at some remove from "the Pale" had understandable feelings of detachment as they watched the big funerals of Dublin gangland figures.

Sure, all human life is precious. But we are also entitled to reflect that those who choose to deal in lethal drugs, which ruin young lives, and then engage in murder, may on occasion reap what they sow.

So this week's Dublin funerals, which soaked up huge garda resources, can seem rather like a reality television version of the crime series, Love/Hate.

But these two gangland killings inside four days did also have another unexpected spin-off: they put crime on the political agenda in the teeth of a surprisingly lifeless general election campaign.

Yes, all the main parties knew they had to speak about crime. The series of meetings around the country, attended by hundreds of people frustrated and fed up with crime, told all mainstream politicians that they had to at least pay lip-service to the issue.

But it was in there among a range of secondary, or even tertiary issues, and far behind the perceived key issue of jobs and incomes.

Crime also ranked behind the serious problems afflicting housing, health services, the lack of fairness in spreading recovery benefits to remoter regions and poorer people, and perhaps was only trailed by disappointment sluggishness of real political reform.

Now suddenly, the sheer effrontery and clinical brutality of the incident at the Regency Hotel, in Dublin 11 days ago bumped crime up the agenda.

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All the main parties suddenly began talking about delivering more gardai and smarter policing. The Regency Hotel incident, and the shocking reprisal which followed within days, proved to be a game- changer.

It is regrettable that the other would-be "secondary" issues - especially the vital issue of spreading economic recovery beyond the big population centres - will not see a similar series of incidents which could put it at the heart of the election issues.

Both Fine Gael and Labour have been keen to argue that the recovery is finding its way into provincial and rural areas.

But even some within those parties quietly concede that this is not so.

Last week Waterford Fine Gael TD, John Deasy, whose name rarely appears in print without the accompanying adjective "maverick," told this writer that it was only in the past six months that Waterford and the South East generally had seen any evidence of an economic pick-up.

Deasy, who is based in Dungarvan and knows the problems of west Waterford in particular, said his focus was to ensure that areas beyond Dublin and Cork got their share of the development cake.

In this matter the issue of rural broadband is crucial.

This has been promised over and over again in the past decade. But the reality is that there are areas not 20 miles from O'Connell Bridge in Dublin which do not have reliable fast broadband.

Once you go west of Mullingar it is lamentable. Mobile phone cover is also dangerously hit and miss. It is not good enough in the era in which we live as these facilities are essential to development.

These are the neglected issues of this election campaign. Addressing them has the potential to transform provincial Ireland in much the same way that rural electrification did in the 1950s. These should be vital election issues - but they are not.

John Downing is the Irish Independent's parliamentary correspondent

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