Decimated rural towns 'twice as likely to suffer from poverty'
PEOPLE in rural areas are twice as likely to suffer poverty as city dwellers.
Research by Teagasc has pinpointed the rural towns worst hit by the economic downturn, illustrated by high levels of unemployment and outward migration.
Bunclody in Co Wexford, Robertstown in Co Kildare and Rathkeale in Co Limerick are the weakest towns in a new index measuring economic conditions in rural towns.
The study by Teagasc examined conditions in 300 rural towns with a population of 1,500 or more, together home to 1.5 million people, a third of Ireland's total population.
It found that towns closer to major cities tended to perform better while those furthest away at the very edges of commuting zones were generally weaker.
The Teagasc study found that rural towns had a consistent poverty rate of 10pc compared to 5pc in cities, while unemployment had trebled during the recession, whereas it had doubled in cities.
And, worryingly, a third of households of working age in these towns had nobody at work, which was much higher than the 20pc of city households where nobody had a job.
Report author Professor Cathal O'Donoghue said this was far higher than the European norm and was of particular concern because intergenerational unemployment and poverty was much harder for people to escape.
He said that while the best-performing towns tended to be closest to cities, this was not always the case, as some towns such as Westport in Co Mayo, Bantry in Co Cork, and Clifden in Co Galway were much stronger, partly due to their tourist offering.
The midlands, south-east and west had the highest concentration of the weakest towns, while Offaly and Carlow were the counties with the lowest average ranking, which highlighted challenges in the south-east and the midlands.
The commuter town of Bearna in Galway was the best-performing, followed by Rathmore in Co Kerry and Balraheen in Co Kildare, while counties Sligo and Cork had the highest average county rankings.
Report co-author Dr David Meredith said that many of the weakest towns had been suffering long-term from the closure of factories and loss of traditional jobs, with construction jobs during the boom offering a temporary respite.
"They have been struggling for some time but the boom masked some of the challenges they faced," he said.
Mr O'Donoghue said that there was no one-size fits all solution to the problems of rural towns.
Towns should not wait for outside bodies to come to their assistance, as successful ones had strong community organisations that worked hard to come up with local solutions.
Good planning was also hugely important, as towns such as Westport that made sure that new developments were integrated into an attractive town centre did better than those that built out-of-town centres, said Dr Meredith.
OUR POOREST TOWNS
1. Bunclody, Co Wexford
2. Robertstown, Co Kildare
3. Rathkeale, Co Limerick
4. Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary
5. Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick
6. Banagher, Co Offaly
7. Gort, Co Galway
8. Castlelost, Co Westmeath
9. Kilcommon, Co Tipperary
10. Carbury, Co Kildare
11. Oldcastle, Co Meath
12. Ballyshannon, Co Donegal
13. Cross Roads, Co Donegal
14. Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny
15. Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon
16. Ballina, Co Mayo
17. Letterkenny, Co Donegal
18. New Ross, Co Wexford
19. Lifford, Co Donegal
20. Ballybunion, Co Kerry