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The road from Kenmare to Waterville in south Kerry is bleak and windswept. Though of staggering beauty, with green mountains which roll down to the wild Atlantic, it is a hard place to make a living. And yet people have done, for many generations. In the small stone ruin beside where I am staying, my wife’s grandfather was one of eight raised on fishing and subsistence farming.

There is a spirit of grit and determination in Kerry which comes out in the county’s football, its music and storytelling and its character and sense of enterprise. And it is a spirit that the rest of the country could emulate.

Recently, the Kerry town of Killorglin, created a new-style chamber of commerce to try to help the town engage with government agencies and develop the region. The new group, the Killorglin Chamber Alliance, brings together business, arts, culture, community and sports organisations under one umbrella and will act as a single voice for the community. One of its first missions is to reinforce the town’s position on the enterprise map by setting up an innovation hub so as to encourage new business start-ups in the town.

The whole idea came from K-Fest, a local arts festival and has drawn in the support of local political figures likes Sean Kelly MEP and the former Labour party Tanaiste Dick Spring who hails from nearby Tralee. Killorglin, which is already known as the location for companies like Fexco, Astelas and Temmler, has a history of hosting entrepreneurs and start-ups and 3,500 people come into the town every day to work, making it a hive of energy and creative output.

It is just as well that the people of Killorglin and other towns are relying on their own grit and resources to stimulate economic activity, as they seem to be getting precious little help from the Government. The reality is that rural Ireland is under serious threat and needs urgent help. The current economic recovery is not spreading around the country, and indeed the so-called boom did little to lift areas where people had lived and struggled for generations.

Retail outlets and small businesses are closing and, combined with other factors, such as the closure of Garda stations, post offices and pubs, we are looking at a pattern of rural decline which may be irreversible.

Meanwhile, the arrival of big foreign shopping chains, often at ‘out of town’ locations, has decimated the smaller shops and businesses. All of this affects many urban areas too, and outlying parts of Dublin, such as the coastal town like Dun Laoghaire, have suffered a similar decline.

So what is the Government doing about it? Very little it seems. The Fine Gael recently announced a vague plan for Rural Ireland which got very little attention and seemed only half hearted in its delivery. And yet the party’s own backbenchers had recently come out with a specific proposal which was virtually ignored by the party leadership, even though FG is, in many ways, the quintessential party of rural Ireland, along with Fianna Fail.

The Fine Gael TDs suggested tax relief for those refurbishing vacant buildings in towns for either business or living purposes, along the lines of the Living City initiative. At a recent parliamentary party meeting, a motion was tabled by Mayo TD Michelle Mulherin, calling on Finance Minister Michael Noonan to bring in tax breaks for businesses, first-time buyers and owner-occupiers who revive dormant properties in market towns. Interestingly, the issue of rural decline was the dominant issue at this meeting.

However, the response of Noonan was very disappointing and even dismissive, even if not meant to be. The Minister has been understandably distracted of late, trying the stabilise the finances and save the Euro. But isn’t this part of the problem. Should Noonan be answering questions on matters like this? His only response was that we already have the home improvement grant, but this completely misses the point of this interesting proposal.

The Finance Minister then suggested that the matter could be considered by Environment Minister Alan Kelly. But Minister Kelly is otherwise very absorbed with Irish water and the housing issue – he can hardly have the time to address this as well. Also missing the point was Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan, who suggested that the matter should be ‘examined by an internal working group’ which would ‘consider the matter for inclusion in the party’s General Election manifesto.’

But what good will that do, a few well-meant promises? And must we wait until the next election, just to plan what we should do? Why not do something now?

The Dublin-based political classes just don’t get it. We need a special czar for rural/urban regeneration. There is a crisis in our country towns and villages, which are simply not feeling the knock on effects of an economic recovery that has been overly focused on Dublin and on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

The curious thing is that we actually do have a Minister of State with special responsibility for rural economic development. This is Labour TD Ann Phelan. But presumably FG TDs want action from their own party. No doubt Anne Phelan does a fine job, but her brief only partly covers this area and really how much influence or resources does she have?

The Government should appoint a really high profile Minister for this area, with major resources, so that we can get the recovery into our towns, where it is so urgently needed in this vital area, which concerns the very fabric of our country and our people. Indeed, you really have to wonder how Government policy is created and shaped. And indeed one must wonder how much influence TDs actually have, given the way this proposal was treated.

The previous Government was criticised for its de-centralisation plans, but at least it was an attempt to spread the State’s services, and resources, around the country. But what has this Government been doing? Yes, help for start-ups has improved, but small businesses continue to be hit by an ever increasing list of taxes, charges and regulations.

Meanwhile, the rise in the minimum wage, while welcome to employees, will only hurt the very businesses that we need to stimulate revival. And meanwhile, there is talk of raising the dole for younger recipients, again hitting smaller employers who can’t compete with wages.

And yet in contrast, the Government, and the broader political culture, seemingly can’t do enough for the big foreign companies. Of course, this FDI has often been the saviour of Irish industry and employment, but it is not the only route to economic success. Local businesses will be there, hopefully, long after these corporates have relocated overseas for economic reasons. These foreign companies also avail of a generous tax scheme, which others don’t, and make it harder for smaller business to compete for labour.

The Government, and IDA, have done much to create this inward investment, but there has to be a bottom up policy as well. Ventures like the Killorglin Chamber Alliance are an example of the local community and local business working together, but it needs more. Of course, it is not the Government’s job to create actual jobs, but it should create the conditions for doing so. It takes our taxes, after all, and legislates for how we live. In this sense, the Fine Gael TD’s tax break initiative is a good one and deserves support.

But the Government can do more than that. Modernisation and intense urbanisation are creating huge challenges for rural Ireland, and the country is crying for an urgent and properly thought-out plan for aiding all its regions.

Stimulus money is coming from Europe and should be used to create major projects, perhaps drawing on our abundant natural resources. In the 1950s, the creation of a turf burning ESB station in Deelis, Kerry was major boost to an otherwise desolate region.

Can we not make a similar move in terms of our seashore, harvesting the sea food and sea weed – now in demand worldwide -not to mention the abundant wind and wave energy? Why not avail of our fragile economic turnaround to build a new economic prosperity built not just on property investment and FDI, but on a economic and social revival that is connected to every town and village in the country, no matter now remote.

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