Friday 24 November 2017

Not much meat on the bones in Enda's Charter for Rural Ireland

Taoiseach Enda Kenny visiting Banagher in Co. Offaly to launch
a Charter for Rural Ireland. Photo: Rose Mannion
Taoiseach Enda Kenny visiting Banagher in Co. Offaly to launch a Charter for Rural Ireland. Photo: Rose Mannion
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

With the big hitters in town, there were certain private expectations amongst local leaders of a big 'pull of money' about to be announced. Or even a medium 'pull of money'.

But the Taoiseach, Environment Minister Alan Kelly and Minister of State Ann Phelan arrived at the Crank House Enterprise Centre in Banagher, Co Offaly with one arm as long as the other.

So no extra cash for rural Ireland then - but plenty of rather vague promises in the form of the grandiosely titled Charter for Rural Ireland they were there to launch.

A charter that might become a 'Framework' and that might actually evolve into something of substance... eventually.

As the Taoiseach all but suggested himself.

"This looks to have been knocked up overnight," said one man in disgust as he flicked through it, observing the rather nondescript photographs and sheer lack of meat on its bones.

Anyone might have thought it was 11th hour, pre-election waffle.

But actually the Irish Farmers' Association has been calling for this since last August - only it was possibly looking for something a bit more specific.

The charter has been put out as "a statement of Government commitment to support the regeneration of rural communities."

It states that the widespread perception that rural is synonymous with decline is wrong. "The positive role for rural areas in the development of the Irish economy is unquestionable," it says.

"However, rural communities involve more than the rural economy and it is important that they provide a nurturing social and cultural environment for their residents."

There is mention of broadband and road refurbishment and Rural Economic Development Zones. But nothing really that has not been already announced before.

Having kept everyone waiting for well over an hour, Mr Kenny arrived in what looked to be rather less than good form. When Ms Phelan suggested that he apply for a grant to get a new sat nav for the car, he shook his head and rather sourly said: "It's not the GPS, it's the clock you gave the IFA."

His prior meeting with the Irish Farmers' Association had run over - they'd discussed everything from the Syrians to the cows.

But he reassured us all that rural Ireland was alive and well - but changing.

People complain about losing their post offices or garda stations, he said.

"But let me tell you at Christmas time, online sales in America were $70bn and $40bn was carried by which company?"

Hmm ... we weren't quite sure we were following his train of thought.

Until he made it clearer: "Why would you send your grandson a present by post when Amazon can deliver it in an hour?"

So a death knell to all post offices then - not much of an election promise, that.

There was no mention of the garda stations.

"You've got to adapt to new ways of doing business," he told them.

And he told them of a 13-mile swathe of countryside near his home parish in Mayo, which had lost 15 schools because the population had dropped away.

"These places have enormous potential for tourism and walkers," he added.

But the picture he had just painted was rather a sad one - a once vibrant community area reduced to a playground for passers-by.

Mr Kelly and Ms Phelan did a little better with their enthusiasm levels for rural Ireland, which they claimed was "in their DNA".

But it is likely that it will take a lot more than this vague charter to satisfy voters when the politicians come knocking on rural doorsteps next week.

Irish Independent

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