It is the nature of news and current affairs that the biggest stories of the day always push the less important ones down the agenda in terms of radio and TV coverage and column inches in the newspapers. In recent months here, Brexit and the health service have been at or near the top of the agenda every day and every week – and rightly so too.
But one story that has not gone away despite the fact that it has fallen off the front pages (and even the inside pages) is the decline of rural Ireland, something that is happening with every passing week and month.
We are all familiar with small rural post offices and Garda stations closing and the huge problems that exist with the implementation of the Rural Broadband Scheme. The facts of the matter are that counties like Roscommon are now populated (especially during the week) in the main by people over 50 and by school students under the age of 18 or 19.
The pub scene during the week is non-existent. There are a number of reasons for that, but a lack of proper public transport is one of the main ones. There are older people living on their own in our county who cannot go out now and who are stuck in their homes from one end of the week to the other.
I fully realise that there are a number of companies in Roscommon who are giving great employment, but the vast majority of those are local entrepreneurs who have invested in the local economy – and for that we should all be grateful. But just take a look at the level of IDA and State interest in creating jobs in places like County Roscommon. A glance at the IDA visits to the county in 2018 reveals that there were none in the first quarter and one in the second quarter.
I am not expecting the next Google or Paypal to locate in Roscommon, but areas like our county town have much to offer in terms of infrastructure, access to schools and services, etc. A couple of hundred jobs would make such a huge difference to the area. We have to ask the question…is there a sufficient effort being made to attract jobs to the county?
I was born and bred in Roscommon and will end my days here too. I am very proud to live in this county but it is sad to see that it is being neglected in terms of our ability to keep at least some of our young people at home.
I shudder to think what the situation will be in 30 years’ time. Who will be living in Roscommon then? Old people like me and my generation – and that will be about it. There are superb community organisations all around the county keeping the show on the road, but no more than every other area of rural Irish society, these organisations are largely run by people who are getting on in years. What I’m trying to say is that you need young people in every community. They are the lifeblood.
As I write this, I note that investment has been announced for (rural regeneration) projects in Boyle and Castlerea. This is very welcome, but a drop in the ocean when compared with the money that is being spent in Dublin and other major urban areas.
There are some genuine people doing their best to address the situation. I know Michael Ring, the Minister for Rural Affairs, personally and you couldn’t meet a more genuine man, one whose roots are certainly in rural Ireland. But the political will is not there at the very top to positively discriminate towards rural areas and counties like Roscommon. It would seem that there is a plan launched almost every year that makes the same conclusions – but with little or nothing being done.
There are elections coming up in May. It might be no harm to remind the candidates who call to your door that there is life outside the M50 and the East Coast.