Unemployment four times national average in Ballaghaderreen

Town in Co Roscommon not alone as streets empty of residents and small businesses

Michael Frain, chief fire officer and chair of the Roscommon Leader Partnership in Ballaghaderreen, Co Rocommon .Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

Michael Frain, chief fire officer and chair of the Roscommon Leader Partnership in Ballaghaderreen, Co Rocommon .Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

 

Ballaghaderreen is not alone.

Streets empty of residents and small businesses is a pattern all too familiar in small town Ireland.

Adding greatly to Ballaghaderreen’s difficulty however are the many vacant new estates built there during Celtic Tiger years under the Shannon Valley tax relief scheme. Ballaghaderreen is the most westerly town to “benefit” from that scheme.

It means there are now 282 vacant residential units in Ballaghaderreen, 90 in the town proper, or enough to accommodate a projected population increase there until 2040 according to the Local Area Plan to 2018.

That said, one entire estate of more than 50 houses and a new but closed hotel nearby were bought recently by investors and are being refurbished.

Ballaghaderreen does have some jobs. Aurivo diary ingredients employs up to 70 at peak times; a large SuperValu about 50, some part-time; ECMI cigars about 30; something over that number work at the Oakwood nursing home.

Other significant employers locally include Cunniffes bacon factory, Thompson Butler Steel, FDK Steel and Maddens builders’ providers.

There are two large schools, St Attract’s national school and St Nathy’s College secondary school. Despite that unemployment in the town is at 32.4 per cent according to the 2011 census figures – more than four times the current national average.

“With its good schools and excellent sporting amenities it’s not a bad place to live,” said Michael Frain, describing himself as “a glass half full person”. Frain is chairman of the Roscommon Leader Partnership which provides a range of training and support services at the Ballaghaderreen’s Community Resource Centre, employing 25 people there.

Currently the centre is embarking on a scheme in conjunction with Galway Mayo Institute of Technology to incubate computer animation programmes, aimed at young local graduates.

They are also developing a Lakes and Legends product to draw attention to the areas’ strong tourism potential while a Tidy Towns team has been enhancing local streetscapes and approaches.

Frain is also a member of the Town Teams initiative set up by Roscommon Co Council to support the revival and re-branding of six towns in the county, including Ballaghaderreen. The other five are Boyle, Castlerea, Strokestown, Roscommon and Monksland.

A lot of work locally has built on what the Ballaghaderreen & Districts Development (B&DD) group has been doing in the town over the past 20 years.

One of the B&DD’s major achievements was in having the Western Development Commission headquarters located at Dillon House on the Square. Solicitor Declan O’Callaghan, one of the driving forces behind the B&DD, is chairman of the Council of the West.

He is clear on what is needed to revive small town Ireland.

It called for “a fundamental paradigm shift in regional policy” where government is concerned”, he said. “Economic planning at national level should be equality-proofed to ensure it does not impact negatively on rural areas,” Mr O’Callaghan said.

More specifically, he called for a dedicated unit in the IDA to focus “on smaller companies in niche businesses that would be a good fit for smaller towns”.

A tax incentive scheme should be introduced, “targeted at construction and renovation of town centre properties for commercial and retail use,” he said.