Friday 19 April 2019

Editorial: 'If we build rural Ireland, then prosperity will come'

Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring. Photo: Tom Burke
Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring. Photo: Tom Burke


William Gibson, who coined the term "cyberspace", noted 15 years ago: "The future is already here - it's just not evenly distributed." Many in rural Ireland feel the same way when they visit Dublin, their capital city.

Since 2006, we have had solid and solemn Government commitments to a better balance of social, economic, and physical development across Ireland.

More effective planning, we were told, would be a key driver of development in the regions.

So where did all the forethought and prescience get us? As the economy powers towards full employment, we see a massive imbalance on the east coast, with 60pc of new jobs in the Greater Dublin Area.

Writing in these pages today, Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring admits: "Our cities are creaking under the pressure brought on by regional imbalance."

He is spending €1bn to help generate rural jobs. Governments can and must plan. But they must also act.

We have had a plethora of plans for Gateway-towns and hubs; blueprints for all kinds of new horizons but that's as far as it goes. The result is stationary traffic, crowded inadequate public transport, exorbitant rents and an unprecedented housing shortage.

There has been a signal failure across the political divide when it comes to making the most of our cities, especially in terms of delivering a better spread of opportunities, better quality of life and better places to live in.

Today, foreign investment has arguably more sway over industrial and technological development than the State.

Big Tech exerts its own unique gravitational pull. Governments are drawn in. There is a global competition to host these firms, and the lucrative employment and growth opportunities they offer.

Cities and economies are transformed as a result. If Apple, Google or Facebook decided to up sticks, there would be an international stampede to their doors offering them a shiny new home on their terms.

But even in San Francisco there are limits to progress.

Silicon Valley has produced a new phenomenon of a generation having to "scrape by" on six-figure salaries because values have sky-rocketed. Sound familiar?

Instead of waking up in a city that never sleeps, many long for a bit of premium, uninterrupted shut-eye. Perhaps that is where rural Ireland can score with the right infrastructure, broadband and housing. After all, if you build it they will come.

At the beginning of the last century, novelist George A Moore wrote: "Dublin dwindles so beautifully; there is no harsh separation between it and the country. It fades away, whereas London seems to devour the country; an army of buildings comes and take away a beautiful park, and you never seem to get quite out of sight of a row of houses."

But would he recognise our capital today?

Irish Independent

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