NATIONAL policy is the biggest factor holding back the development of rural Clare, in the view of Council CEO, Pat Dowling.
Speaking at the January meeting of the local authority, Mr Dowling commended the work and commitment of Clare’s councillors and executive, but said rural development would remain “a lonely road” unless there is greater support from central government.
Mr Dowling made his comments on foot of a motion from Councillor Joe Garrihy calling for a review of the Council’s “commitment to focus on and resourcing of Rural Development”. There was widespread support for Councillor Garrihy’s comments on rural development and his assertion that Clare’s strategy document represented “a landmark and trailblazing initiative”.
Commenting on what he said was a “very balanced” motion, Mr Dowling said Council staff were dedicated to rural development. He noted that significant government funding had been successfully drawn down and that there was a positive relationship with local communities.
“But I still look at our efforts with an element of frustration,” Mr Dowling added. Okay, we have a national Department of Rural and Community Development, which in many ways was put there following the example shown by the Banner County, but national policy is our biggest hindrance.
“We can do all we can about community capacity building until the cows come home, but if government don’t feel people should live in rural areas, if government feel that transport should not be made available in rural areas, it makes that challenge difficult for us.
“And so while we can do a lot within our own control, but policy across the globe, and it’s no different in Dublin, is towards an urban centric society. People live in towns and cities. And I think that’s the great challenge. We know it in the post office movement.
“And there’s plenty of examples we can give where things have been centralised and not dispersed. And you need dispersal, to satisfy the needs of communities who live in a dispersed manner. So I think we have a ways to go. We’re facing a lonely battle here in Clare.”
Mr Dowling acknowledged the hard work and significant achievements in Clare, but said a national debate was needed.
“The future of society can no longer assume the thesis that it must be urban centred,” he said. “I think that’s what we’re trying to do in County Clare. There is a big debate to happen. And I know we’ve done lots of bits, but the big scale of where you have vibrant, sustainable rural communities all over County Clare, we are a long way from it. We are struggling to stand still. But be assured members, we continue to fight for rural Clare, and I mean, all of Clare, we’re a rural county.”
Director of Service Leonard Cleary confirmed that the county’s rural development blueprint would be renewed this year and unveiled next month.
“The Rural Development Strategy itself has been reviewed over the last 12 months, and many of the elected members here have been actively part of that process and have made written and verbal submissions on it,” he said. Mr Cleary acknowledged the support of Local Community Development Committee (LCDC) and noted that the recruitment of two new Rural and Community Development Officers in the coming months.