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Rural isolation fears over approach of winter in pandemic

RURAL isolation is emerging as a major concern across much of Clare as a direct consequence of the pandemic, with older people particularly affected.

The ongoing closure of venues like pubs, as well as restrictions on social gatherings and attendance at sporting events, is said to be cutting off lifelines for many older people, many of whom are continuing to cocoon.

When you hear an older person saying that life doesn’t seem worth living any more, there’s something really wrong there,” said the Inagh native Niall Garvey, who is head of Muintir na Tíre. “I would say that, at the moment, the restrictions on pubs and matches are really big issues,” he said. “But, what I think is one of the biggest things is the fact that people are no longer calling on their neighbours. People are afraid to call in to see each other in the way they would have done before the pandemic.”

Mr Garvey noted that during lockdown a number of community groups sprang up and worked together to ensure that essential services continued to be provided. The re-opening of the economy and the return to work of thousands, who had been at home, has now meant many groups are no longer as active. “There was an amazing coming together of the community organisations, along with the likes of the IFA, the GAA and others,” he outlined. “I would be quite concerned now, however, that people don’t really feel the supports are needed any more. That means people aren’t getting the calls or the contacts that they did during lockdown and the fact is that many of them are still cocooning, because that is the public health advice. There were also a number of people who volunteered but were told they weren’t needed. I would wonder if they’d be so ready to come forward a second time.”

Councillor Pat Burke of Whitegate echoed these concerns, particularly in relation to restrictions at venues which would traditionally have served as focal points for gatherings and community contacts. “There is definitely something missing now in rural life,” he said. “People are able to go back to the marts, which is great, but things are very different because of the guidelines. We need to put safety to the fore, but there is an impact for those people who would have gone to the mart for social reasons, as much as anything. That option isn’t really there and nobody’s going to the pub after the mart. That tradition was under threat as it was, but now it’s just not possible.”

A new survey of community alert groups, conducted by Muintir na Tíre, is due to be published in the coming days. According to Mr Garvey, it indicates a major national problem with increased isolation as the pandemic continues. He believes that these findings must form part of a government approach to Covid-19 during the winter months.

There is a sub group of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) which I sit on and there is a mechanism there to feed into what the government response to the pandemic,” he said. “We are facing into dark and unknown times this winter and there is an issue here that needs to be addressed.”

About Fiona McGarry

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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 NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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