Rural Ireland is dying: priests

Rural Ireland is dying: priests
Government plans could undermine communities even further

 

The National Planning Framework plan currently under discussion by Government could undermine life in rural Ireland a well-known priest-activist has warned, with other priests insisting that rural Ireland is dying as a result of policymakers’ neglect.

Fr Harry Bohan told The Irish Catholic he believed that the framework was a rehash of earlier plans which did lead to growth but the growth was not spread around.

The Planning Framework plan, which focuses on infrastructural investment over the next 25 years, has been criticised for favouring urban development over small towns and villages.

Depopulation

In West Donegal, Fr Eddie Gallagher said he sees rural Ireland “dying on its feet” with alarming depopulation, as evidenced by school enrolment figures. He is parish priest of Kilcar which has lost four teachers. Twenty years ago, he said, 218 children were at Scoil Chartha Naofa, today there are just 118. The nearby Cashel primary school in Glencolmcille had 166, today it has 68. “Meenaneary National School had 58 – now it has 17,” Fr Gallagher said.

Fr Gallagher believes there needs to be decentralisation which should be aimed at small towns the size of Donegal for example (current population around 2,600).  “If you can put a university or industry in it, that would help the whole hinterland around it,” he said.

In Louth, Fr Paul Clayton-Lea is parish priest of the growing village of Tallanstown, where he baptises around 50 babies each year. Situated between the M1 and M2 arteries to Dublin, many people make the hour plus commute to work in the capital.

“Some parents of young families that I know of would be setting out to get to work at 5.30am and returning later in the evening at 6pm or 7pm.

“For young families that is a lot of pressure,” he told The Irish Catholic.

In the National Planning Framework, Dublin is predicted to grow by 25%. While this will benefit Tallanstown, Fr Clayton-Lea wants to see more done to encourage people to stay and work in rural areas.

“In justice I think it would be right that the funding should be spread out as fairly as possible so people in rural areas are at least given encouragement to stay where they are because a lot of older people are running farms and there’s not going to be another generation to run them unless there are incentives to [help them] make their homes in the area,” he said, adding “and they do want to make their homes in the area.”

“If the government don’t invest in these rural areas, they will empty them.”

Reiterating words of Bishop Jeremiah Newman, Fr Bohan said he feared for a future where Ireland might be a “prosperous nation, with a favourable balance of trade and little emigration but with its people packed into a few huge cities and the countryside a prairie, haunted by the ghosts of dead towns and villages”.

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