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Finding the balance


The people’s agenda

Finding the balance

Michael Commins

SWINFORD, once a leading market town in east Mayo, has not been among the major beneficiaries of the economic boom of the past decade. Last Thursday, the town was quiet with just a few people on the streets. Like so many more towns in Mayo, it is clear that Swinford too is losing out to the pull of Castlebar.
Recent times have seen a number of small indigenous family businesses close their doors. It’s a common trend in other towns too but it is especially noticeable in certain parts of Swinford, especially Market Street, where several shops have closed their doors, bringing the curtains down on an old and established way of life.
Business life is not easy in small to medium towns these days. Many people opt to travel to some of the bigger chain stores in places like Castlebar and then wonder why small shops in their own towns and areas are closing week after week.
The centralisation of shopping cannot be good for communities and perhaps it is time that a whole new approach is adopted before we sleep-walk ourselves into an unprecedented situation where foreign-owned stores will have a virtual monopoly on our supply lines.
Matters relating to the old mart come up time and time again in conversation in Swinford. Around 18 months ago, there were several objections from business people in the town who genuinely feared that a major shopping development on the old mart grounds, owned by Connacht Gold (formerly NCF), would have serious repercussions on long-established family businesses in the town.
However, there has been a major re-think on this issue and now most have come around to believing that the town needs development big time or it will continue to suffer as a result. When the application was re-lodged some time ago, only one objection was lodged against the proposed plans for the site and this came from a lady in the Breaffy area near Castlebar.
Local councillor Joe Mellett says that shops have been closing in the town for some time and people have now rowed in behind the need for development at the mart and in the town. “We are not calling for unrestricted development. It has to be managed in the best possible way.”
In relation to facilities for youngsters, Cllr Mellett said he had recently secured a grant for €130,000 for a children’s playground in Swinford. “The location is being short listed and I expect an announcement  to be made shortly.”
Work on a welcome and positive development for Swinford looks set to start next month. “The Tidy Towns has secured funding to develop what Swinford people know as The Wood at the back of Charley Kelly’s and this will become a fine amenity area that will be a great addition to the town. Work is due to start in March with completion in six months’ time. Funding of €70,000 has been secured by the local Tidy Towns committee in conjunction with Mayo County Council. From an environmental point of view, this is also an excellent project,” said Cllr Mellett.
Swinford has a lot of projects in the pipeline which seem likely to revitalise the town and a bright future seems likely if new retail and industrial development is encouraged.

The people speak
Bernard O’Brien
“In my own line of business (hackney operator), many of the people that I was bringing into town on a Sunday night have stopped coming to town because of the random breath testing. The whole town suffers as a result. On a more positive side, I do welcome the good news about Knock Airport the other day. In relation to my business, with the help of God we’ll have a lot more passengers coming through Knock Airport.”

Aisling Dermody
“It would be nice to see some new businesses come into town to replace a lot of the shops that have had to close down in the past while. The big supermarket (Greaney’s) is closed down and, as you can see, there are quite a few empty retail spaces on Market Street alone. It would be nice to see people being encouraged to come in to Swinford and open up their businesses here.”

Danny Lambe
“I just think it’s a shame that the pubs are so quiet. I don’t think it is because of the smoking, it’s more to do with the transport. I think people would take advantage of a rural transport scheme if it was available. A lot of pubs that were vibrant places 15 years ago have gone now.”

Margaret Devaney
“It’s a shame to see all the small shops closing down and this is driving people away from the town. Castlebar is drawing so many shoppers that the small towns around are all suffering. We started the Mayo-Roscommon Hospice shop six years ago and thankfully it has gone very well for us. If we had more small shops, I believe people would come here. It’s much easier for parking. Castlebar is gone too hectic that way. Another thing is we have no facilities for youngsters. The town badly needs real amenities for young people.”