Ulster Bank had a presence on The Diamond in Clones for 120 years, until it closed its door 18 months ago. Two months ago, the ATM that had been left behind disappeared, without notice.
For many, its departure illustrates the Monaghan town’s woes. Local businessman Eamon McCaughey says: “It is a sorry sight to see all these businesses boarded up.
“This government is talking about bringing the heart to the town but the heart has been ripped out of the town. Our local post office closed and was relocated. Our local library closed and was relocated.
"Our bus stop was relocated. Everything is gone," says McCaughey, who added a discount and electrical store to his newsagent's shop in a bid to stay in business," he tells The Irish Times.
The town has been afflicted with a series of shop closures in recent years "Clones is forgotten about and all the money is pumped into tourist towns," says Jessica Knight who runs Liberty Belle, a fashion and beauty salon.
“This is a very deprived area and yet the rates haven’t come down and premises are empty. There is no incentive to bring businesses into the town. The rates here are crippling,” says Knight who runs the business with her sister Tori.
Healthcare is a major issue for locals, speaking on the eve of today's budget: "We have no hospital here. Cavan would be the closest hospital to us but their services are being cut back as well and people are having to go to the North, to Enniskillen or Derry, for emergencies," she goes on.
Public transport is limited. A Monaghan-based private coach firm, McConnons, runs a twice-daily service to Dublin. Bus Éireann’s services are limited. A bus journey to Enniskillen – a road trip of 40 minutes – takes more than three hours, and goes via Cavan. “I know that from talking to my customers who complain about having no transport, who are relying on one or two buses a day which sometimes don’t even turn up, just to get out of the town. If you don’t drive in Clones, you are screwed,” Knight complains.
In the late 1990s, Clones hoped the peace brought by the Belfast Agreement would usher in a new era of prosperity. Local
says, “All the roads to the North were cut off for a long time because of the Troubles and we thought when they reopened custom would come back but I am afraid it didn’t come back.
Pensions and health
“Pensioners need to be looked after in this budget. What about health? A lot of people don’t have medical cards down here. If you don’t have one it’ll cost you €45 just to see your doctor, more if you need a scan, an overnight stay or a prescription. People are fed up,” she said.
Sterling's fall is making a bad situation worse, according to Tony Morgan, who has been running Lipton's store for nearly a quarter of a century. Today, he wants to see Minister for Finance Michael Noonan cutting VAT to 21 per cent.
“I’d love to see that but it won’t happen. The 23 per cent is having a massive impact on our business . . . And then there is the fluctuation with sterling which means people are going North.
“We are fighting hard against that and are trying to introduce things into the business but it’s a difficult fight, a constant fight,” he says, speaking at a weekend when parking spaces are still freely available due to the lack of trade.
“If you drive from here to Monaghan town or Cavan you take your life in your hands, the roads are so bad. If you meet a 40ft truck you are on tenter hooks. The roads need sorted, too,” he says. The Border region has been “neglected”.
“They are more concerned about Dublin and multinationals, even though the small businesses employ more people than all the multinationals put together. You don’t see many politicians around here, unless there is an election.
"Enda Kenny should come and visit us and look at our town. Our community is very important to us; we need help and we need money," he said. In the meantime, Clones will wait, though few will do so with hope.