THE URBAN – RURAL DIVIDE IN IRELAND BY MARK O’SULLIVAN

I am a person from County Clare who, like many, has made the move to our nation’s capital. I have a unique viewpoint on the differences between urban and rural Ireland and I have witnessed first-hand, the division of these two communities. I will discuss what divides us and how government policy reflects this.

It is clear from the lack of media coverage that rural communities have been hit hardest by the financial crisis. Services have been decimated along with increased unemployment and emigration of young people with 80,900 people leaving the country in the year to April 2013 (http://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/er/pme/populationandmigrationestimatesapril2015/). We have flocked to urban centres for education, a career and a means to sustain a good quality of life. The lack of jobs and investment have led to the decay of rural Ireland. In contrast, urban areas enjoy jobs, wealth and diversity. I believe that the lack of investment and the prioritisation of Dublin over rural areas are the cause of the divide. In the UK, the government has plans to invest in the north of England to create a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ which is being proposed to attract investment and to counteract the dominance of London in the UK economy (www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32720462). We can learn from our neighbours and implement the same strategy along our western seaboard. Can we bridge the divide and unite together to form a stronger and more equal Ireland?

Post offices and family run businesses define villages across the country, but, are under threat due to lack of investment in the community. The disintegration of communities in rural areas is highlighted in this link (http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/rural-post-offices-under-a-new-threat-34889711.html). The main streets of every major town in Ireland have empty premises leading to the demoralisation of the local population (www.midwestradio.ie/index.php/news/19279-25-vacant-premises-on-castlebar-s-main-street-at-present-according-to-local-councillor). In contrast, both Henry and Grafton Streets in Dublin have near full occupancy, along with high levels of trade.

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Flooding is a major issue for both businesses and houses in rural Ireland, especially on the River Shannon and River Lee. Flood defences are not being provided (http://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/flood-hit-cork-expecting-more-with-high-tides-as-business-owners-slam-lack-of-flood-defences-729052.html). Investment in rural Ireland can be seen as a nuisance as there is not enough people living there for it to be financially viable leaving rural homes and farmland to flood while defences are put in place in urban areas like Ennis, Co. Clare. All areas should be protected as they provide either a home or a job for somebody and leaving anybody without these two essentials puts an unnecessary and avoidable strain on the state.

We are a nation divided by inherent localism. Some rural TDs believe that rural Ireland is being left behind by the capital for instance in the lack of investment in transport and communication infrastructure, echoing the notable divides described in the Hunger Games movies! From a rural perspective, city dwellers have all the jobs and services while the rural community is thrown some scraps when a local TD has some bargaining power. The regeneration of Dublin’s Docklands is a good example of this. Dublin, yet again, is the focus of the government’s investment, renewal, regeneration and recovery. The classification of this area as a Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) along with the exponential growth of the capital’s economy is creating a tension between rural and urban populations at both a local and national viewpoint. Projects such as this are exacerbating the problems of rural and urban Ireland. This highlights the concentration and preference of the local, over the national interests of the country in urban areas.

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There is however another divide that exists but is not so clear from the outset. The lack of community and trust between people who walk Dublin’s streets is something alien to country dwellers (http://www.irishtimes.com/business/lack-of-housing-policy-is-hurting-community-spirit-1.471325). In rural areas, everybody knows their neighbours and greets them when they walk down the street. The silence on packed rush hour buses is sad from my point of view. Technology has a part in this but I believe it isn’t the main driver. People not knowing their neighbours and the subsequent loneliness are more of the problems that urban dwellers have and which drives the two populations even further apart.

The electrification of the country after the Second World War also clearly shows the urban-rural divide. A prime example of this is when Ballycroy, Co. Mayo was the last village in Ireland to be electrified in 1964, a whole 17 years after the first ESB pole was erected in north Co. Dublin (http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/let-there-be-light-the-day-all-ireland-went-electric-1.2845679). This division and prioritisation is also happening today. Urban areas are now being prioritised with faster broadband speeds and even the availability of broadband over those in rural communities. 4G speed mobile data is only available in major urban centres and you’re lucky if you can even find any internet in parts of the rural landscape. We can learn from our mistakes in the 1940s and 50s and have the speedy and extensive rollout of high speed broadband to all areas of rural Ireland. We can help bridge the divide by doing this.

The unequal distribution of resources and opportunities, national and local state interferences and capital disinvestment are all responsible for the divide in Ireland. I believe that there is little co-ordination between the different state agencies and politicians that manage and control this country. Decisions are made with no consideration of the national implications. Now, more than ever, we need an urgent review of planning policy with a view to concentrating development in the areas which need it most. We need a structured response, investment in rural Ireland and leadership from government. We need to bridge the urban-rural divide, to bring people from both of these communities together and to eliminate inequality and unfairness in this country. In the words of an African proverb, ‘if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together’.

 

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