Retired bishop sounds warning over west of Ireland’s future

Towns in west much more ‘socially and economically alive’ decades ago than today

A retired west of Ireland bishop on Friday warned that he saw very little hope in his native county.

Retired bishop of Elphin Christy Jones said he believed towns in the west were more alive socially and economically in the 1940s and 1950s, “a time of mass emigration”, than they were today.

Bishop Jones was speaking at the Western Regional Development Conference in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, where a call for the creation of a full cabinet post with responsibility for Rural Affairs was backed by the Minister of State with responsibility for this area.

Minister of State Anne Phelan said she agreed, given the number of people living in rural Ireland and the challenges they faced, that rural affairs deserved a full ministry.


‘Little hope’

Bishop Jones, a founder member of the Council for the West, told delegates: “When I look at my own county of Roscommon I see very little hope, genuinely, and I am not being pessimistic.”

Outlining the problems, he said one “beautifully situated” Roscommon town now did not have even one hotel, “so when tourists come there is no place for them to gather”.

He added that he had marched with people from another Roscommon town who wanted a jail located there “at a time when every town in the world would have been marching against it”. Bishop Jones said this was a measure of how desperate the people of the town were.

Having grown up in the 1940s and 1950s, he believed towns in the west were much more “socially and economically alive” then than they are today.

Frustration expressed

The retired bishop expressed frustration with a lack of development at Ireland West Airport Knock, and asked why is the government “so so slow” to support it.

He said: “My God, we thought when we had a Taoiseach and so many Ministers” in government (in reference to their west of Ireland origins) that more would be done at the airport.

Declan O’Callaghan, chairperson of the Council for the West, called for a full Department of Rural Affairs in order to ensure the survival and future viability of rural Ireland.

Mr O’Callaghan warned that as Ireland emerged from the recession, a two-track economic recovery was already a reality “and unless urgently addressed will result in irreversible regional imbalance”.

‘Benign indifference’

Calling for a fundamental paradigm shift in regional development policy formulation and delivery, Mr O’Callaghan said that for too long the official attitude to this issue had been one of benign indifference.

“Our Constitution allows for the appointment of up to 15 cabinet ministers. Surely the survival and future viability of rural Ireland is one of the 15 most important issues facing the country and so merits a full and dedicated government department in its own right,” he said.

Supporting the call, Mr Phelan said: “I think to have a full minister at cabinet in the next government would prove that I and my colleagues have done something very very beneficial.”

She told delegates that in every community she visits, “bar none”, she is asked, “When are we getting broadband?”

The Carlow/Kilkenny TD added that she had no problem with positive discrimination for rural areas. “I say bring it on.”

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland