Comment: Rural decline not a fait accompli

The news that An Post is considering the closure of over 200 post offices nationwide has thrust the issue of rural decline back into the spotlight.

By Pat Somers, Editor, Leinster Express

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By Pat Somers, Editor, Leinster Express

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news@leinsterexpress.ie

Comment: Rural decline not a fait accompli

The news that An Post is considering the closure of over 200 post offices nationwide has thrust the issue of rural decline back into the spotlight.

It also came in a week in which Ulster Bank indicated it may close 30 branches, many of them in rural areas.

And with the emphasis increasingly on digital banking, it’s not too hard to see other banks contemplating this scenario, sometime in the not too distant future.

It adds up to a justifiable sense of foreboding regarding the future of services in rural areas.

Whither rural Ireland, one might well ask.

An inherently pessismistic view would see all this as part of an overall decline that is continuing unabated.

It has its roots in changes in the way agriculture is carried out. In the past, farming was more of a manual job, with plenty of manpower needed.

The composition of farms was also different, with smaller family farms generally the norm.

Not now though. The inability of small farms to sustain people, coupled with increased mechanisation, has led to the emergence of bigger farm units requiring, ironically, less manpower.

Agriculture is no longer able to sustain the high standards of living most people reasonably expect these days.

Now we are experiencing the net effect of a lot of these trends, and these tend to be the reduction of services, such as post offices.

Even places like the pub and church as focal community points no longer enjoy the dominance they once did.

So where does it leave us.

Is there any future left for people in the country.

The answer is of course there is.

There are many examples of vibrant communities dotted around the countryside, often enjoying a greater sense of community and place than can be the case in urban centres.

It is a pleasant place to live, but the trade off is that anyone who opts to live in the here has to be prepared to travel, and has to overcome some of the logistical difficulties associated with this.

Services have been greatly reduced and the countryside is de-populated during tlhe day.

We have seen the fight to retain services, such as with the post office in Ballybrittas. Ballacolla recently lost its last remaining shop.

The 2017 Action Plan for Rural Development was launched by the government, but it is not enough.

The solutions for rural Ireland need to take into account many of the the complexities involved.

The National Planning Framework has to address regional development, something which its predecessor the National Spatial Strategy purported to do, but failed.

Plans need to be put in place for differents areas, and for a population which is ageing and in which seniors will form the clear majority in a few years time.

When dealing with this issue, it is easy to generalise, but wrong to do so.

There are plenty of example of rural areas that are transforming themselves into mixed economies based on a plethora of activities, such as part time farming, tourism, and a mixture of local enterprises.

People need to fight also to retain their services, but they also need to work with the relevant authorities in forging a new strategy for their areas, and to open a new chapter in the life of rural Ireland.