New Government must rise to meet the challenges faced by rural Ireland

15 June 2017

Speaking in the Dáil last night, Labour Spokesperson for Agriculture, Willie Penrose TD, congratulated the new Government and outlined the actions they must take to improve life in rural communities in light of Brexit.

“I congratulate the Taoiseach and his new Cabinet. I wish to focus on issues relating to rural Ireland and the need for the Government to focus on the regions. I particularly compliment the new Minister with responsibility for community and rural affairs, Deputy Ring. I have no doubt that he has earned his spurs, and he will make sure that rural Ireland’s problems are addressed and not forgotten.

“There are many challenges facing rural Ireland, with Brexit being the main one. Farming organisations have said today that farming and the food and drinks industry must be one of the Taoiseach’s top priorities in the Brexit negotiations. They are not wrong. We have already seen the mushroom industry decimated by the impact of Brexit and we cannot afford to have any other industry suffer in the same way.

“The new Minister for Enterprise and Innovation, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, should note that the midlands has the lowest number of IDA Ireland-supported jobs of any region, followed closely by the north west and mid-east.

“The Tánaiste must now prioritise investment in small towns across the regions but in particular in those areas that have not benefited from the recovery in employment. There is no substitute for infrastructural investment by the State for long-term development. There is no substitute for advanced factories and offices, high speed broadband, good quality roads and public transport connections. Indeed in Mullingar there is a fine industrial estate of 27 acres ready to go in Marlinstown and the Industrial Development Authority Ireland, IDA Ireland, has failed to deliver there. It is like the forgotten child, bypassed every time. If regionalisation and development of the regions is going to mean anything the Minister should start in the midlands. State investment is critical to securing foreign investment and IDA Ireland must spearhead this in small towns.

“Connectivity and increasing the scale of high speed broadband is critical for rural areas. It can transform them. The Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen is an outstanding example of how transformation can be achieved. The World Bank has suggested that a slight increase in broadband speeds can raise local gross domestic product, GDP, by 10%. Once super fast broadband reaches an area success follows. Connectivity is a key. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. The Ludgate Hub serves as a beacon of innovation for rural Ireland and this can be replicated across the country if there is a will to do so. Talk is cheap but bringing the whole community together and installing the necessary infrastructure can bring results. Let us resurrect rural villages and bring people back into rural towns.

“Minister Ring knows that villages are being decimated. I live in one. Shops are closing. Very soon there will be no shop between the two major towns of Longford and Mullingar. Petrol stations and newsagents are disappearing. We do not want to impose rates on shops that are not making a tosser by calculating them on the basis of leasing values. What sort of a message does it send to rural areas when the rate for a shop that has been for sale for six years without an offer is calculated on the basis of a leasing value relative to a town? Shops in rural towns and villages create four or five jobs. They pay the proper wage and they pay their taxes. There is no black economy in those shops but they are being decimated by Government policy. It must be reversed. I ask the Minister for Community and Rural Affairs, Deputy Ring, to make sure that will be achieved. There is a report on the post office network and now is the time to implement it. In County Kildare, the service available at the post office was widened and it is going to thrive in Ballymore Eustace. That is the prototype that should guide us forward.”

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