THE government has been urged to prove its commitment to rural Ireland by moving the department responsible for it out of Dublin.
At the May meeting of Clare County Council, there was widespread and cross-party support for a motion tabled by Councillor Gabriel Keating calling on the authority to ask the Department of Rural Affairs and Community Development to decentralise “as an indication of their commitment to Our Rural Future policy document”.
The Fine Gael member referred to the publication last month of the new strategy document, which runs to 122 pages.
“Clare is a mostly rural county and we lead the way in terms of rural development,” he asserted.
“We were the first authority to have its own rural development strategy. Now that 80% of public servants are working remotely, this may be our best chance to get a government department and it would mean a huge amount to this county.”
The Fine Gael member urged Clare’s seven Oireachtas members to back the bid to attract a decentralised government department.
“They must row in behind us,” he said. “This would mean so much for the county.”
The motion was seconded by Councillor PJ Kelly. “There are a lot of contradictions in terms of national policy on rural development,” he noted.
“The department itself wants to develop the countryside, but there are national strategies that seem to want to leave rural Ireland to the birds. I fully support the motion because Councillor Keating is always on the ball in terms of rural development.”
Lending his support, Councillor PJ Ryan described the motion as “innovative”.
“The capital is too big at this stage,” he said, “and rural Ireland has been forgotten.”
Councillor John Crowe expressed the opinion that views on decentralisation have changed because of the pandemic.
“This is an excellent motion and the time is right,” he said. “At one stage, the national media derided decentralisation, but that has changed now.
“We have outstanding successes in Ennis, Kilrush and Shannon. Some people have realised that Dublin can be a horrible place to live and they’re looking elsewhere.”
Chair of the Rural Development Committee, Councillor Pat Hayes pointed out that a strong relationship exists between Clare County Council and the department.
“It’s really appropriate that the government would look at this, given the change to remote working,” the said.
“We have a strong relationship with the department and I was speaking to officials last week on our review of the Rural Strategy. Their view of Clare is a positive one. I would be fully supportive of this motion.”
Thanking members for their backing, Councillor Keating said the matter could be progressed with the help of Clare’s TDs and senators.
“I have no doubt that something positive can happen if they row in behind it,” he said. He also asked Chief Executive Pat Dowling for his views.
“I would welcome any opportunity for a decentralisation project,” Mr Dowling replied.
“The new administration has diluted the department somewhat because other functions have been added. There could be a practical opportunity here into the future.
“Any decentralisation into the counties, towns and rural areas would be welcome,” the chief executive concluded.
Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald.
Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti.
She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at The University of Galway.
If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at email@example.com or telephone 065 6864146.