NATIONAL POLICY is the “biggest hindrance” to building vibrant rural communities in Clare, a meeting has heard.
Pat Dowling, Chief Executive of Clare County Council, admitted frustration with government thinking on rural development and said counties like Clare are “running to stand still” on the issue.
“I still look at our efforts with an element of frustration. 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”, he said.
Mr Dowling continued, “We can do all the community capacity building till the cows come home. But if the government don’t feel people should live in rural areas, if government feel transport shouldn’t be made available in rural areas – it makes that challenge difficult for us. While we can do a lot within our own control to a degree, policy across the floor, and no different to Dublin, is in the urban-centric nature of society. People live in towns and cities. That is the great challenge”.
Mr Dowling was speaking as members of Clare County Council debated a motion tabled by councillor Joe Garrihy (FG).
Cllr Garrihy asked that the council review its commitment to focus on and resourcing of rural and community development.
He also said he was “very worried” about the threat posed by the far right and disinformation.
Mr Dowling said, “There are 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. We have a ways to go. I fully support Cllr Garrihy’s frustrations on a regular basis on this. We’re fighting a lonely battle here in Clare”.
“The big scale up, where you have vibrant, sustainable rural communities all over county Clare – we’re a long way from it. We are struggling to stand still and that’s part of our difficultly”, he added.
Cllr Garrihy told the meeting that over the last three years “our country and our county have been affected by the seismic impacts of covid and now the largest humanitarian response there has been in the history of the State”.
He said. “We are depending on people on the front line. We’re depending on local community and volunteers, local community hubs. I see an awful lot of threats. I see what is happening worldwide with the impact of the far right and impact of disinformation and the impact of social media and the spreading of false rumours and threats. I see that affecting other parts of our country and I feel very, very worried about what’s happening around the country in relation to that”.
Cllr Pat McMahon (FF) told the meeting that society has to be aware of the “wider implications” of refusing people entry into the country, referring to World War II, when, “we refused Jews into this country”.
Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) said, “The key to rural development is community capacity building. To be honest I don’t think that currently exists in our system, it’s basically grant funding. I really would welcome when we are reviewing our development strategy that inside of that there would be a piece that talks about capacity building. I’m involved in many organisations in west Clare and I see community burn-out absolutely at the core because there is very little support”.
Cllr Mary Howard (FG) paid tribute to the “extraordinary response” of people in Ballyvaughan and Lisdonvarna in welcoming new arrivals into the community.