Priests warn that rural Ireland is ‘dying on its feet’

People urged to make neglect election issue

Mags Gargan and Greg Daly    

A lack of social and economic investment has left parishes in rural Ireland depopulated and soulless, priests on the coalface have told The Irish Catholic.

Dingle-based Fr Pádraig Ó Fiannachta said many rural people “have lost heart, and nobody is giving them any heart”.

The recently-retired Bishop of Elphin Dr Christopher Jones said parishes are being crippled due to a lack of employment with all the major focus being on cities.

“There’s essentially no employment and there’s a decline in employment potentiality in all of the rural towns,” Bishop Jones warned.

He said that people in rural parishes and provincial town are disappointed that all the focus is going on Dublin, Cork and Galway. “That’s important, but the only thing that will bring life back to rural towns is jobs.

“I mean both economic and social life,” he said.

Dr Jones said having a Taoiseach from rural Ireland has not changed policy. Insisting that he is not looking for “favouritism” he said having a Taoiseach from Mayo and other minsters from the area means “they must know exactly what’s happening in rural Ireland and the rural west”.

Parish Priest of Kilcar, Co. Donegal, Fr Edward Gallagher also expressed frustration. “Rural Ireland is dying on its feet,” he told The Irish Catholic this week.

“The population in rural parishes is declining. In my parish 50 houses have closed in the last seven years… any child here in secondary school, if they go off to university, it’s seldom they return because the jobs are not here for them,” he said.

Fr Gallagher said that rural parishioners looked on helplessly as communities are stripped of vital services. “One of the causes of decline in rural Ireland is that post offices, garda stations and medical dispensaries have closed down”.

He said that a large area of rural Donegal is now served by just one garda as opposed to the four officers just a few years ago.

“Money is not being spent in rural Ireland, it is being spent in the cities,” he said.

Co. Clare-based Fr Harry Bohan blamed a “bureaucratic approach to development concerned with growth”.

“The measures that were being applied to rural Ireland and especially the West of Ireland were half measures, and the result is we have serious damage done to life across Ireland. Villages are dying around the West of Ireland and services have been closed,” he said.

Fr Bohan warned that the heart has been taken out of rural Ireland “and when you take the heart out of a place you take the spirit and soul as well. That must be one of the great election issues for next year before it is too late,” he said.

Bishop Jones acknowledged that local politicians are doing their “utmost” to promote economic development in rural Ireland. However, “there’s no indication that the Government is doing anything to create employment.”

He gave the example of Knock airport, which “has shown huge potential” but “is not getting the financial support it deserves from the Government.

“If anything else – if any other business – showed that potential it would be backed,” he said.