Sustained high levels of unemployment and subsequent high levels of emigration among young people have led to a loss of young people in rural communities, according to the review of Rural Development contained in Social Justice Ireland’s 2013 Socio-Economic Review published recently.
The impact of this on rural communities cannot be underestimated and its consequences will be long term, the Review states. The sustainability of small local communities is under direct threat, and this haemhorrage of young people will reinforce an ageing demographic profile for rural areas.
In order to address this and to improve the quality of life in rural areas, the Report states that “opportunities must be created so that the rural economy can develop much needed alternative enterprises. In order to do so an integrated rural transport system and the provision of quality broadband to rural communities must be a priority.”
A rural development strategy must embract sectors that supports tourism, niche manufacturing and business services, the Review states.
It also criticises the Government for “failing to deal with the new challenges an ageing population brings to rural areas in relation to health services, social services and accessibility for older and less mobile people. Employment, diversification of rural economies, adapting to demographic changes and supporting young people to stay in their communities are areas that need immediate attention,” it states.
Social Justice Ireland’s Review advocates an integrated approach by the Government which gives recognition to the fact that rural Ireland involves far more than agriculture, develops policies to promote the diversification of the rural economy and support local enterprise and local employment. The elements would involve rural development policies which prioritise access to public services and rural transport; the rolling out high speed broadband to rural areas; supporting young people to remain in their communities whilst ensuring rural areas can adapt to a changing demographic profile; investing in the development of renewable energies and ensuring that policies do not impact disproportionately on rural dwellers.
“Rural Ireland is dying on its feet” has become an all too common refrain. It has taken a huge hit during this recession. The trends which have taken root need to be addressed, and this Review provides a good starting point.