Sunday 17 November 2019

John Masterson: Don't you forget about us in rural Ireland

Charlie McCreevy
Charlie McCreevy

John Masterson

Nobody likes to be forgotten. It is a deep psychological hurt. The longer I live outside Dublin the more I get the feeling that rural Ireland is being forgotten by the powers that be. We are like the ageing film star - forgotten but not gone.

I get a glazed-over feeling whenever I hear a politician going on about measures to keep life and people in rural Ireland. It is all poppycock. Dublin is like a giant vacuum cleaner. There is the morning traffic jam from around Naas as people living as far away as Kilkenny all grind to a standstill on their morning commute. Then they have the same thing to look forward to in the evening. Forget the Government. Charlie McCreevy tried to move civil servants in 2003 and that didn't work. About a third of the targeted 10,000 moved.

The other day I was walking from my office in Kilkenny to town to buy printer ink. It is a 10-minute walk. One of the twentysomethings piped up "Buy it online. It is cheaper". She was, of course, right and probably did not expect a 10-minute lecture on what sort of town we will have left if you don't buy local.

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I don't want yet another shop to close and be replaced by a charity shop, phone shop, vape shop, or bookies. I have nothing against phone and charity shops. Every time you spend a euro it is a vote for the type of society you want to live in. If we want to keep the rest of the country alive we will have to do it for ourselves. As of today I am becoming a self-appointed ambassador for the South East. And Connemara. And Sligo and Enniscrone where work took me recently. Anywhere except Dublin.

People like the sense of belonging they develop with a place where they spend formative years and where they say hello to people on the street. Much and all as tourism is important to us, those of us outside the capital do not want to be thought of as a theme park with old buildings. I recently looked at the nominations for the Kilkenny Chamber Business Awards, and the list includes tech and engineering companies that have customers across the world. These are success stories employing families that shop locally with children who attend local schools and play on sports teams. They work side by side with hundreds of small businesses that make up the fabric of rural towns and villages. There is no point in us just feeling pleased for them. We need to spend money with them. At the end of summer I visited many food producers and restaurants in Waterford in the course of shooting a video. I can only say that I was blown away by the passion and expertise evident through the county. I want to live in a country where these businesses, small and large, continue to make a living. These people are not looking for handouts from Government. They just want to keep having customers and it is up to us to support them.

Rural Ireland doesn't need lax drink driving laws. It needs universities, hospitals, garda stations and schools as the banks and post offices leave. And some good planning. I met a distraught mother recently who was worried that her child wouldn't get a place in a Kilkenny school but would have to be bussed 12 miles every day out of town. There is nothing wrong with the school. It is just that it is not in the child's locality. How, oh how, can we have such bad planning that a child is not able to walk or cycle to school?

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