Minister warns against out-of-town store outlets

No change of tack over Garda station closures

 Minister for Rural Affairs Ann Phelan: said the protection of rural post offices was a priority for the Government.

Minister for Rural Affairs Ann Phelan: said the protection of rural post offices was a priority for the Government.

Sat, Aug 16, 2014, 01:00

Large out-of-town discount stores have sucked the life out of town centres and damaged rural Ireland, said Minister for Rural Affairs Ann Phelan.

Ms Phelan, who was appointed to the new post last month, said action could still be taken to save smaller towns from a similar fate.

“Our planners have to look seriously at the effect of putting these large supermarkets on the edge of towns,” she said. “They certainly have done damage. Can we undo that? There are still some villages and towns that don’t have them, so we should protect what is there. Our local development plans should protect the high street.”

She also said the Government would not change tack on the closure of Garda stations.

“I don’t see the issue of the Garda stations being reversed. What I can do in a short space of time about reopening Garda stations . . . I don’t really think I can do much about that.”

She said communities would have to look at how they could work with gardaí to protect themselves.

Ms Phelan said the protection of post offices was a priority for the Government.

“Nobody knows better than me how important the post-office network is. I do understand that it is at the heart of the community,” she said. “I will be fighting . . . to protect that.”

She said she didn’t want to raise expectations about what she would achieve in the new role as time was against her. “I probably have a maximum of 18-21 months to do something [before the Government’s term of office ends].”

She said it was clear that a two-speed economic recovery was under way. “Large urban areas like Dublin sometimes have the ability to drive their own economies. And now Dublin has moved ahead of everywhere else at a speed while parts of rural Ireland are still decimated by the downturn in the economy. They are languishing because of high unemployment and emigration.”

A main task will be to implement the recommendations in the report from the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas released earlier this year. It made 34 recommendations to encourage a rural revival, including the establishment of rural enterprise development zones and a small-town stimulus programme.

Some 30 towns have been identified as doing particularly badly in recent years and she said a pilot scheme would be set up to target these.

Ms Phelan said a lot of support was already in place from agencies involved in job creation and enterprise but they were not being used because people didn’t know about them.

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