Rural Ireland and rural communities are coming under unprecedented pressures and many are fighting for survival

Posted on Thursday, 4 April 2013

The impact of sustained high levels of unemployment and subsequent high levels of emigration among young people in rural communities cannot be overestimated. 

  1. Poverty is more likely to occur in rural areas than urban areas.  In 2011 the risk of poverty in rural Ireland was 4.6 percentage points higher than in urban Ireland with 'at risk' rates of 18.8 per cent and 14.2 per cent respectively.
  2. Those in farming comprise just one quarter of the rural labour force.  Agriculture, forestry and fishing account for only 85,600 people employed in Ireland.
  3. Direct CAP payments comprised 73% of farm income in 2011. 
  4. 65% of farms in Ireland have an income of less than €20,000 per annum.The lack of an accessible, integrated and reliable public transport service is one of the key challenges for rural dwellers, who shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden of insufficient public transport.

The impact of sustained high levels of unemployment and subsequent high levels of emigration among young people in rural communities cannot be overestimated. These developments have led to a loss of young people in rural communities” according to Social Justice Ireland.

By failing to support young people to stay in their communities Government is potentially failing to address a key aspect of sustainability while supporting an emergence of an ageing demographic profile for rural areas which undermines both employment and growth targets.

In order to improve the quality of life in rural areas and rural communities’ opportunities must be created so that the rural economy can develop much needed alternative enterprises. In order to do so an integrated rural transport system and the provision of quality broadband to rural communities must be a priority.

Across Europe the secondary and tertiary sectors are now the main drivers of economic growth and job creation in rural areas.  These sectors support tourism, niche manufacturing and business services.  For rural areas to become sustainable in the long-term these sectors must form an integral part of any rural development strategy.

Government is also failing to deal with the new challenges an ageing population brings to rural areas in relation to health services, social services and accessibility for older and less mobile people. Employment, diversification of rural economies, adapting to demographic changes and supporting young people to stay in their communities are areas that need immediate attention.

The links between better participation, better health, access to public services, access to employment opportunities and a public integrated rural transport service have been well documented.  Transport policy must be included in planning for services, equity and social inclusion. The social inclusion element of an integrated rural public transport system can no longer be ignored.  People with disabilities, women, older people, low income households and young people are target groups still at a significant disadvantage in rural areas in terms of access to public transport. 

In order to support rural Ireland Government must recognise that rural Ireland involves far more than agriculture, develop policies to promote the diversification of the rural economy and support local enterprise and local employment.  This would involve (i) adopting integrated rural development policies which prioritise access to public services and rural transport (ii) prioritise rolling out high speed broadband to rural areas (iii) supporting young people to remain in their communities and implement policies to ensure rural areas can adapt to a changing demographic profile in the longer-term (iv) invest in the development of renewable energies in order to ensure the sustainability of the rural environment and (v) ensure that policies do not impact disproportionately on rural dwellers