Opinion: The west needs a plan - and it has to be sustainable
Many of us may have already broken the New Year’s resolutions we made just a few weeks ago — but it’s interesting to look at these resolutions for the purpose of exploring the whole notion of planning.
Resolutions are a form of planning and generally their intended outcomes mean a better life or a better quality of life.
What has prompted me to come back to this notion was the publication of figures from the CSO and the Western Development Commission in relation to the huge decline of farmers in the west. The 20 years since 1996 has seen a 40pc decrease in people working in agriculture and fishing in the west, which includes Connacht along with the counties Clare and Donegal.
There is a national gasp of “oops” when figures like this are produced, as if nobody anywhere had an idea that such a thing could or would happen.
It reminds me of a story my father used to tell about agricultural improvement classes that were held in the local library in my own home parish during the 1950s and 60s. During one particular course, the tutor had spent two nights sharing his wisdom on the establishment and maintenance of a good kitchen garden. He finished his presentation with a warning to the gathered mixture of eager, seasoned and cynical farmers that decent fencing and a good gate were vital, else all the hard work preparing and sowing the vegetables could come to naught under the hooves of wandering cattle, loose horses or marauding donkeys.
One man put up his hand with a question, “And who told you the crows around here will come walking?” The expert had ignored the most persistent raider and destroyer when it came to kitchen gardens.
When we look at the situation of farmers, and indeed people trying to eke out a range of livelihoods in the west, we have no excuse for being shocked and horrified at the consistent decline. What has happened and what continues to happen is a never-ending cycle caused by a major failure — the failure to plan.
One of the weaknesses in the form of democracy we practice in this country is that it breeds reactors and discourages planners. The short-term nature of programmes for government and the need to please most of the people most of the time in order to protect one’s seat in a multi-seat constituency means that leadership, courage and vision are in short supply. Funerals, grants and schemes are the order of the day.