‘FACTS AND STARK REALITIES’ Achill Fianna Fáil councillor, Paul McNamara.
AN Achill councillor has castigated past and present governments for failing to invest in rural communities and claimed that current government programmes will turn rural areas into wildlife parks.
Speaking at the June meeting of the Westport/Belmullet Municipal District Fianna Fáil councillor Paul McNamara lamented the lack of funding for areas like Achill and said without investment in infrastructure young people are not being given the opportunity to live in their home place. He questioned what the future has in store for areas like Achill if the current trend continues.
“In my opinion my area has been starved of funding by present and past governments. They all played their part in not providing funding for places like Achill.
“Where will it be in 50 years time and what service will it have? The rural/urban divide is getting bigger and bigger. The main industries we had in these areas like the salmon industry are all gone and the people gone with them. What will survive in these areas if things don’t change,” he said, before arguing that the national politicians have forgotten about areas like Achill.
“Any minister or leader in the last five years bar Michael Ring hasn’t come down to Achill. Micheál Martin came as far as Castlebar but he didn’t come to Achill to see what could be done, Leo Vardakar didn’t come down.
“We need to stand back and say who will be here in the next 50 years and what will they survive on. If the programmes coming down from the Government don’t change, what will be in these areas is a drive through wildlife park where all the rare birds and breeds will be.”
In the last week, Bunnacurry National School on Achill Island closed due to a lack of pupils and Cllr McNamara pointed out that this was the third national school in Achill to close in five years and added that in recent years one of the two secondary schools in the parish also closed.
He also pointed out that eight post offices serving the parish had closed in the last ten to 15 years with just one left open while only one petrol station remains open and up to five hotels have also closed. Offices belonging to ESB and Eircom in Achill Sound have also closed while a number of shops and other services have also closed their doors.
“We have to ask ourselves how we got to this situation? For the simple reason we were neglected by the government and while the east coast thrived small rural areas in the west coast are left to dwindle away. The basic infrastructure has not been supplied to these areas,” he said.
Cllr McNamara also criticised the proposed new farming programmes which will be part of the new Common Agriculture Policy and felt if is allowed to happen farming on Achill will decline like fishing.
“We had a thriving fishing industry and a co-op in Achill Sound which employed five or six people all year round. Today the birds are flying through that co-op. We have about 12 piers in Achill and at this time of year there were boats at every one of them and the co-op took those fish to the markets. That industry is completely gone. Those piers have fallen into disrepair and since I have got elected I have been shouting for better facilities but there is no funding whatsoever.”
Cllr McNamara told his fellow councillors that while the urban and rural divide was getting bigger and bigger, there was also a growing divide between rural areas close to town and those on the periphery of the county.
Speaking to The Mayo News following the meeting, Cllr McNamara said he raised the issue because nobody was speaking about it and the facts of rural decline had to be pointed out.
“Past and present governments have turned their backs on these areas. These are the facts and stark realities of what used to be in these areas and what is in them now. If there is no investment and proper infrastructure put into these areas they will face serious consequences in the next 25 years.”
However, he added that there are still a number of positive aspects to living in places like Achill but urgent investment is needed to take advantage of the changing technology to attract people.
“We need government intervention and to prioritise spending to facilitate people in the modern day and give them the opportunity to return to their native shore and run businesses or work from home. We need proper infrastructure and broadband.
“We have a GAA facility that is second to none and we have a good tourism infrastructure and the foundation there provided we get funding to bring people back. We need a ten year vision and for the government to prioritise spending to these areas to give people the opportunity and choice to work in their home area.”