Sunday 15 September 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'M50 our idea of Trump's wall - but life does go on beyond it'

Unveiling: Dr Deirdre Garvey, chair of the Western Development Commission, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister Michael Ring at the rural fund launch in Sligo.
Unveiling: Dr Deirdre Garvey, chair of the Western Development Commission, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister Michael Ring at the rural fund launch in Sligo.
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Donald Trump would be proud of the M50.

It's like a 'big beautiful wall' between Dublin and rural Ireland that stops the caravans of culchies taking over the city.

There are many who dwell outside the capital who would be grateful if they never had to cross the M50 again. The trip to Dublin is a physiological challenge and that's the inflection point.

But the reality is that they will have to at some stage. It might be for a hospital appointment, a job interview or to visit a son/daughter who studies in the big smoke.

Dublin may be on the east coast, but there's no doubting that it's the centre point of our country. However, that doesn't mean there isn't a whole new world beyond the crushing traffic jams.

Rural Ireland is not dead as some commentators, and indeed politicians, would have us believe - but it is changing.

As a result of the recession, Dublin is struggling to deal with a housing shortage and an infrastructure deficit.

Rural Ireland faces different types of problems that will need to be addressed with different solutions.

Perhaps climate change is the best example of how different Dublin and the rest are. For those living in the city, any attempt to clean up our air is welcome and necessary.

But for those who live in the countryside, it will involve changing the habits of a lifetime. Aside from the quenching of turf fires, the move away from carbon and fossil fuels has cost 800 people their jobs at Bord na Móna.

The arrival of German supermarket chains has demoted the traditional corner shop to a distant second place. Email has made many post offices unviable. Banks have lost interest in face-to-face interactions. And a realisation that drinking and driving are not mutually compatible has killed off many local pubs.

But for all the talk of despair and depression in rural Ireland, there are lots of good things happening too. Villages have sports facilitates that an older generation could never have imagined. Playgrounds and greenways have become locations for social outings. And many small towns have small industrial parks.

Those who live outside the M50 just need a little help in building their new reality.

In the same way that Dublin needs a Luas, rural Ireland needs broadband.

And it's curious: Dublin wants less people and rural Ireland wants more. The solution should be obvious but of course, nothing is that simple.

Latest released figures show that almost two-thirds of new jobs go to Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Louth and Wicklow.

During the last election, Fine Gael appeared to forget about those outside the pale - but the backlash resulted in Michael Ring becoming Rural and Community Development Minister.

People could hardly hope for a better advocate for rural life. Yet he quickly found himself having constantly to remind colleagues, including Dublin Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, of what goes on outside the M50.

When the recent National Development Plan was near complete there was uproar as Mr Ring and Business Minister Heather Humphreys privately argued it didn't do enough for rural dwellers.

The result was a €1bn fund which was unveiled yesterday, along with the first initiatives.

Sligo is to get 'The Yeats Trail'. Mayo will have enterprise and digital hubs. A swan park in Donegal that closed in 2017 is to reopen. Kerry is getting €1.27m to restore the Valentia Trans-Atlantic Cable Station.

At the launch, Mr Varadkar said the Rural Fund was all about making rural Ireland a much more attractive place to stay, to move families into, or to start a business.

The fund is a start - but Mr Varadkar and his government would do well to spend more time outside the M50 to discover what is really going on.

Irish Independent

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