Comment: Rural Ireland has already suffered enough but the Budget looks set to twist the knife
LOOKING at the Budget 2019 teasers, it's clear that rural Ireland has little political clout and we've got a capital convinced that everything revolves around it.
Living in Dublin, at times, everywhere else can cease to exist even if we sometimes hear stories about the other side of the wall, where winter is coming. No wonder everyone else says that the Dublin 4 media and politicians think they are better than everyone else; it's because they often do. Leinster House rarely pretends to be interested in the hundreds of thousands who live in the countryside and rural Ireland's way of life is under attack again in Budget 2019.
Last year the Government launched an action plan. It called it 'Realising Our Rural Potential: the Action Plan for Rural Development'. Sounds good? Not so much when we hear that diesel, petrol and the hotel VAT rate are all going up in next week's Budget. These are all things that will hit those living in the countryside hardest.
Yes, the money has to come from somewhere. But how fair is taking it from rural Ireland?
We constantly hear dire warnings that a lack of investment, as well as the growing wealth gap and the dominance of Dublin as an economic hub, are creating a crisis. The findings of Social Justice Ireland's national 2016 survey on income and living conditions found that people living in rural areas have higher at-risk rates of poverty than those in urban areas.
In the Border, midlands and western region the at-risk-of-poverty rate was 22.3pc compared to 14.4pc in the southern and eastern region. The Border, midlands and western region also had higher rates of consistent poverty at 10.6pc compared to 7.6pc in the southern and eastern region. Longford had the highest unemployment rate recorded in Census 2016 at almost 30pc. The poverty rate in rural Ireland is 4.5 percentage points higher than in urban Ireland.
Rural Ireland's problems are vast, they are structural and need intervention from local and national government. There's a steady decline of rural services - the buses, Garda stations and post offices. In some of the remotest parts this process is being fuelled by depopulation. Farm incomes are in trouble unless the farmer is diversifying into other sectors. There is no sign of proper broadband being rolled out.
Tourism is important in rural Ireland. The reduced rate of 9pc VAT was introduced in 2011 to stimulate the hospitality sector - crucial to economic well-being in rural areas. It worked. An independent report produced by Indecon research economists on behalf of Fáilte Ireland found that since the introduction of the VAT reduction there has been a strong recovery in overseas trips to Ireland.