July 16, 2021
MacManus warns EU Agri-Commissioner that public services in rural areas must be protected

MacManus warns EU Agri-Commissioner that public services in rural areas must be protected

Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus, member of the European Parliament Agricultural Committee, warned Commissioner Wojciechowski that public services in rural areas must be protected. The exchange took place during a meeting of the Parliament’s Agricultural & Rural Development Committee, to discuss the European Commission’s vision for rural areas. 

MacManus, speaking after the debate commented:

“The Commission produced a document outlining their vision for rural areas. As I see it, they presented the digital transition as a solution that would fix everything. I agree we do need more digital infrastructure. But that means rural Ireland needs reliable high-speed broadband. And that means a roll out in the very short term.”

“This could be used by farmers to move towards a more precision focused farming, allowing them to save money through more targeted use of expensive inputs. High-speed broadband will also allow more people to work remotely in rural areas and create off-farm income opportunities.”

“However, I am concerned when we talk about moving public services online, as a solution for people in rural areas. Having the option to bank or deal with a government department online is welcomed, but it should be in addition to the physical provision of these services.”

“The document highlighted that 40% of those consulted, said that they felt left behind by policy makers. This will not be improved by telling them that urban communities will have services and rural communities will be offered a website. This would be a complete failure, as most people would choose to remain close to our cities, pushing up rents, and bleeding rural economies and communities.”

MacManus highlighted increasing decimation of rural Ireland and pledged his party’s commitment to reversing the trend. “In recent years, we have seen the mass withdrawal of services from rural areas, in particular, banks, post offices and Garda stations. Sinn Féin wants to see this reversed.” 

“The Government often tells us that these services are not viable. This lack of imagination is a disservice to rural Ireland. One solution is the grouping of service locations. Most services do not need much more than a desk and computer to operate. A small premise could act as a hub where providers rotate their presence periodically. You could also have multiple services under the one roof, like a market place.”

“A periodically staffed space in a bank branch, post office, Garda station or Government department would be feasible. For years rural communities have benefited from mobile libraries and banks, the hub model would be an easily implemented extension of that model. It would give people in rural areas certainty that they can make a life for themselves without time consuming and costly commutes to urban centres. This would have a big impact on peoples’ quality of life.”

“Therefore, the real vision for rural areas must be a mix of access to services that are fixed, mobile and digital; this approach is the only way to avoid social exclusion and inequality or a deepening divide between the entitlements of urban dwellers compared to those who live rurally.”

The Sinn Féin MEP concluded by pledging Sinn Féin’s ongoing support and engagement in the process. “This document from the Commission is only the start of the process and I intend to get involved as much as possible in it’s development. Sinn Féin is committed to an Ireland that works for all our citizens, and enables people to live, free from disadvantage, in every corner of the island.” ENDS

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