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Rural Communities denied equal level of access to services

1 June, 2004


Sinn Féin TD for Cavan/Monaghan Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin today criticized the Government's failure to fulfil their commitments on Rural Development, citing the closure of hospital services, post offices and garda stations as "part of the avoidable decline of rural Ireland".

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"Sinn Féin's argument is that every person, no matter where they are, ought to be entitled to an equal level of access to and provision of public services; be that health, transport, education, post offices or banking. The reality for many rural communities is very different. Many of these services are either non-existent or have been withdrawn from these communities. That is clearly illustrated by the health crisis within the regions. The loss of services at local hospitals must be seen as part of the avoidable decline of rural Ireland - a decline for which the Government is responsible. Monaghan and Louth hospitals have already been targeted. Under the Hanly Report, further hospitals will go under the knife. The reference to health in the government amendment cannot hide that reality. In the area of health there are relatively minor administrative measures that could be taken to integrate ambulance services so that people could be taken to the nearest available hospital rather than having to travel longer distances that might place them in greater danger.

"Farm incomes in real terms have fallen by almost 25% since 1995, according to the Central Statistics Office. This, in combination with current debt levels of E1.1 billion, has made it increasingly difficult for many family farms to survive. Over 30,000 people have left farming since the beginning of the 1990s.

The majority of these have been smaller producers and this has had a malign and devastating effect on rural communities. It has made it more difficult for local businesses to survive, and it has not been compensated for by an increase in other types of jobs in sufficient numbers to offset the recent increases in unemployment. The main reason for the real fall in farm incomes has been the declining share that farmers receive from the products which they sell - it is not unusual for farmers to receive 30 or 25 or even 20% of the price that the consumer pays. There is an argument for a return to real co-operativism to enable farmers to secure the best price for their produce and to limit the power of the multiples.

Although rural communities are not exclusively based on farming, it is important that agriculture remains strong and vibrant and provides both employment and the basis for other rural jobs such as processing. If the EU is committed to maintaining the European model of agriculture based on family farming, then measures must be taken to ensure that the current drift from the land is halted. In the context of the current reform of the CAP, that must mean that decoupling provides farmers with a guaranteed income, but also that the Irish Government develops new strategies to take best advantage of the new situation facing farmers. It must also mean that the funds taken away from direct payments through modulation are ring-fenced within the country they originate from, and that they are made to directly benefit the farmers from whom the funds are taken. These funds should be used here in Ireland for rural development.

"Another area where this Government is abandoning its commitments is in the area of community-based policing. Only last week, Minister McDowell was speaking about closing more Garda stations in rural and urban areas. This often has a particularly marked impact on rural communities where people see the withdrawal of local Gardaí as another form of abandonment by the State. People, and especially the elderly in isolated rural areas feel vulnerable in the absence of a visible and known Garda presence. Sinn Féin proposes that this problem can be addressed through the establishment of Community Policing Partnerships. These would comprise elected representatives, appointees of local statutory agencies, and representatives of the community and voluntary sector. These Partnerships would meet regularly with the Gardaí and ensure that a greater level of accountability and confidence is nurtured.

"Empowering rural communities - decentralization - does not just mean the relocation of Government offices from Dublin - it means the real empowerment of local government. This is especially important for many of our marginalised and neglected rural communities, particularly in the Border, Midlands and Western region. " ENDS

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