Shutting Garda stations and post offices will leave locals vulnerable and isolated
The slow death of many of our rural towns and villages has been occurring for years. Their decline was delayed briefly during the first half of the past decade when thousands of building workers arrived to erect houses, shops and apartments. However, now many of these same buildings lie unsold and empty.
While building was taking place, small rural businesses received a temporary boost, but now that the builders have left, the spin-off jobs and general activity has gone with them. But people still live in these villages and those that remain are seeing traditional support systems being gradually eroded.
The closure of some rural Garda stations is just a start, and while there are financial reasons for shutting them, the comfort the presence a manned barracks brings to the community should not be underestimated.
The knowledge that a garda is present in the locality plays a huge part in crime prevention and where this support has been removed, vulnerable citizens such as the elderly, especially those living in isolated farm houses, must feel increasingly threatened.
It is recognised by police forces worldwide that if you concentrate on preventing the small crimes, the large offences rapidly reduce in number.
A Garda presence is invaluable. We need them in all our towns and villages and we need their help and a spirit of cooperation in maintaining local barracks throughout rural Ireland.
A further and even more important element in supporting and bonding any community is the local post office.
The post office is the soul of any small town or village and yet they too are under threat of closure.
Shutting some of them down might be economically justified, but if we manage our affairs solely on the basis of economics, we ignore the real needs of huge sections of our population. You cannot put a cash value on social interaction.
The contribution post offices make to the well-being of rural citizens is incalculable and often only properly recognised when it is too late.
If post offices are centralised and moved to some out-of-town shopping centre, as is already happening in some places, the real human service they provide is lost forever.
People go to the post office for many reasons, including sending parcels and letters, collecting their pensions and welfare payments and to pay utility bills.
It can be argued that many of these transactions could be more efficiently carried out by using direct payment to banks and paying bills and accessing cash through ATM machines.
But it costs more to use bank services. The elderly also like to have a set sum of cash in hand weekly and budget their spending accordingly.
You cannot have a chat with a machine and it's not much fun standing in a queue on a wet day waiting for your turn at a keypad if you are a pensioner or have children to mind.
Nor can it be much fun finding your way to a venue outside the town to collect your pension when you are accustomed to doing it in your local village and catching up on the news at the same time.
Our banks are also busy reducing employee numbers and shutting down local branches. Their staff are continually changing and they are no longer allowed to give a personal service.
The days of a having a chat with the manager who knew and understood your business is long gone. Everything is now conducted either by phone or internet banking and even lodging a cheque requires queuing at a machine.
Had the banks relied on old-style personal character assessment when making loans during the boom years, they would have avoided their recent costly collapse.
Nowadays, we are forced to manage our affairs on the internet and communicate via text messages and email without ever exchanging a friendly word or a smile. One might as well live in an apartment block in Siberia.
If we want to retain and enjoy proper civilised interaction between fellow human beings, we must support our local shops and post offices. They are more than just places of commerce, but function as social centres that enable us to have a chat, hear the local gossip and keep in touch with friends.
These are things money cannot buy.
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