Report that rural Ireland is dying is hardly a shock - but what will be done?

Editorial CommentEnniscorthy Guardian

In news that should come as a surprise to precisely no-one, a new high-profile report has 'revealed' that rural Irish towns have been decimated since the recession and many are dying.

The report carried out by the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland has found that a 'perfect storm' has ripped the heart out of many rural towns and most are finding it impossible to recover.

Amongst their stark findings, the researchers behind the report found that a lack of local leadership and the rising trend of out-of-town retail developments helped catalyse the huge decline in rural towns since the financial crash.

The majority of small Irish towns were ill-prepared for the recession, and without high-speed broadband they are hamstrung in how they can recover, according to the report by the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI).

While the report itself was a worthy exercise, the reaction to it in Dublin media circles bordered on the bizarre.

The manner in which many national print and broadcast media outlets seized on the report's findings suggests they have only just realised that rural Ireland may be suffering.

It's not as if the people who live in rural Irish towns haven't been trying to highlight these exact issues for decades.

The decline of rural Ireland is not breaking news. It hasn't happened suddenly and it dates back to long before the recession.

Many of the towns included in the report never really felt the benefit of the boom and were in the economic doldrums years before the financial crash.

Again and again people have tried to raise the crisis facing rural Ireland only to be ignored as the national focus remained squarely on Dublin.

That frequently heard jibe about the two Irelands - inside and outside the Red Cow Roundabout - didn't come from nowhere.

In their report the SCSI identify many problems facing small towns. These include excessive rates; high insurance costs; uneven population growth; high unemployment; poor broadband; online competition and a lack of local leadership.

These difficulties will be grimly familiar to anyone trying to run a business in rural Ireland but it is nice that someone in Dublin seems, finally, to have noticed.

SCSI's researchers do set out a roadmap for recovery, highlighting in clear terms what can and should be done to halt rural Ireland's seemingly terminal decline.

The recommendations make for interesting reading and are very well thought out. Whether anyone in Government will ever act on them is another matter entirely.

Past experience would, unfortunately, suggest that we shouldn't hold out much hope. With a General Election looming we'll likely be hearing an awful lot about what the parties have done or will do for rural Ireland.

People in rural areas have heard it all before. They want action, not more empty platitudes.

Until then we can keep ourselves amused by waiting for the national media to learn that the Pope is Catholic and bears favour forests for their lavatorial needs.