Analysis: Recovery is not yet being felt in rural areas

‘You can see the impact of recession in towns, just by how many people are idle’

Pat Spillane near his home in Kenmare, Co Kerry. “I think rural Ireland is now on the political agenda, for the first time possibly ever.” Photograph: Don MacMonagle

Pat Spillane near his home in Kenmare, Co Kerry. “I think rural Ireland is now on the political agenda, for the first time possibly ever.” Photograph: Don MacMonagle

 

Pat Spillane works with the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas.

“I still see a two-tier economy in Ireland, with the gap between urban and rural recovery. The improvements in the economy haven’t really trickled through to the rural areas yet,” he says.

“But for the first time, I feel there is a focus on rural Ireland at a political level. I think rural Ireland is now on the political agenda, for the first time possibly ever.

“The national broadband plan has ferocious potential for rural Ireland, but it’s vital that there will be a timeline for it. Broadband could be as significant for rural Ireland now as electrification was when it came in. That’s what will help recovery.”

Different speeds

Mark Fielding

“The country is going at about three different speeds, and it depends on how you slice it. The Pale is in post-recession, but if you go down to Abbeyleix or further down to the midlands, the signals are not as big as in Dublin,” he says.

“If you look at the GDP figures for the country with Ibec sunglasses on, yes, we’re all out of recession. But it’s not true for the people I represent. They are not ringing up their tills. Volume of sales has started to move up a little bit, but value is trailing behind. People are selling at lower margins than in the past.

“When you drive down the main street in rural Ireland, you can see that the shops that are still closed are like badly broken teeth in the face of a small town. It is very hard for those closed businesses to be picked up and opened again.

“There are so many pubs that don’t open until late in the evening or are closed altogether. Even where small shops are still open, lots of them only open for a few hours. In the past, you’d have shops like the grocery open for 10 hours a day with a full staff. Now a lot of them are empty in the afternoons, during the graveyard shift between 2pm and 4.30pm, when you’d only have maybe one person in the shop.

“You can see the impact of recession in towns, just by how many people are idle in the town, because they have no work. You can also see the difference from 20 years ago in a lot of towns, where those between 19 and 30 are no longer visible. They’re gone.”

Cathal O’Donoghue is head of the Rural Economy and Development Programme at Teagasc.

“We are officially three years in recovery. Since the crash, Dublin and areas around it have seen the biggest increases in employment, but the west and midwest are still down, so there is a bit of a divide.

“People are saying anecdotally that things have improved the most in the east coast, but those places furthest away from cities have seen least reduction of unemployment.

“There are 1.5 million people living outside the five big urban centres. In urban areas, the unemployment rate is less than 20 per cent of households with two adults of working age. In small towns – population over 5,000 – the unemployment rate for two adults in a household is one-third. That is a real social problem. Everything is magnified with unemployment.

“The first challenge is to get people back to work. But then we also have to try and to do something about these rural households where there is unemployment, because if we don’t they are looking at long-term poverty.”

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