'Fears over access to medical services forcing a rural exodus'
Fear over access to emergency medical services is now greater than the fear of rural crime in many counties.
Muintir na Tíre believes inadequate ambulance cover is forcing families out of remote rural areas and into bigger towns.
Figures published in yesterday's Irish Independent highlighted that counties Carlow, Sligo, Meath, Longford and Laois sometimes have just one ambulance on night duty.
The figures, obtained from the HSE, also show that counties including Carlow, Leitrim, Longford, Kilkenny, Monaghan, Laois, Offaly, Sligo, Meath and Cavan sometimes have just two emergency ambulances on day shift.
Niall Garvey, CEO of Muintir na Tíre, a community development organisation, said people are relocating because they don't know what level of service is available to them.
"Last year, the fear of crime was a big thing in rural communities, but the fear of not being able to access emergency medical services is the big issue at the moment.
"It has become another driver of depopulation. Why would anyone build a house now in rural Ireland when you have no idea what you will have access to in terms of education and healthcare?
"While we are realistic and know you can't have an eight minute response time to everywhere on the island, people need to be told what the minimum service will be for essential ambulance services."
One paramedic claimed it was common for ambulance drivers to travel up to 80km away in response to an incident.
The paramedic also claimed they face aggression and sometimes even assault as a result of long delays.
Seamus Boland, CEO of Irish Rural Link, said the emergency ambulance service in rural Ireland is "inadequate".
"I know assurances are given by the HSE on this matter but the honest view is we're not assured by what they are saying.
"We don't have confidence in it, we feel it is not fit to cater for emergencies. We have seen lots of incidents where ambulance cover was fully taken up and suddenly another serious emergency happens," he said.
"We need a proper evidence- based reorganisation of the way the whole service is run."
Robert Troy, Fianna Fáil TD for Longford-Westmeath, said access to 24/7 emergency ambulance services shouldn't be dependent on where you live.
A spokesperson for the National Ambulance Service said "resources are dispatched to calls across the country from the National Emergency Operations Centre on a nearest available basis and not on a county boundary basis. At a local level, the NAS is supported by more than 140 community first responder schemes."