Friday, March 2, 2012

Stand together. Stand united. Rural Ireland fighting back

This blog is coming to you today from Castlebar in Mayo. We travelled over yesterday evening. It was a long journey from Dublin. Once off the motorway we travelled through one deserted small town and village after another.

At a time when rural Ireland is under attack Sinn Féin has decided that it’s time for a fightback. But it can’t be a fightback dictated by people in Dublin or Belfast. It must have its roots firmly in rural Ireland.

So that’s what we have decided to do – to go into rural Ireland and speak to those most affected by the policies of austerity which are stripping local communities of essential services – of schools, of guidance counsellors, hospitals, post-offices and Garda stations. The government is also adding new stealth taxes like the Universal Social Charge, the Household Charge, VAT increases, motor tax increases and septic tank charges.

Businesses, shops and pubs in rural towns and villages are closing. Small indigenous businesses, including small farmers, with no real support from the government or credit from the banks, are going under. Our fishing communities are devastated.

All of this and the absence of equality of access to public services threatens the quality of life of people living in rural Ireland.

Castlebar is the first of a series of meetings Sinn Féin will be holding across the state as part of a consultation process with rural Ireland. This morning this blog, Martin Ferris TD and Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Kathryn Reilly launched the party’s “Love Rural Ireland” campaign. Michael Colreavy TD from Leitrim also came along to add his voice to the campaign.

The room was packed. It was standing room only. Over a hundred people came out on a Friday morning to listen to our contributions and to ask questions and make suggestions.

Martin and Trevor have been appointed the parties spokespersons on rural Ireland and they will be travelling the length and breadth of the state getting the views, opinions, suggestions and ideas of rural communities.

We thought Mayo was an appropriate place to launch this campaign. It is the Taoiseach’s county. It is his policies, as well as those of the last Fianna Fáil one, which are contributing to the crisis in rural Ireland. It is also timely in that this morning the Taoiseach is in Brussels signing up to the austerity treaty.

But Mayo is also Michael Davitt’s county. He founded the Land League in this town in 1879.The Land League led the fightback against the exploitation of rural Ireland and the eviction of farmers and their families.

Davitt’s slogan was: ‘the land of Ireland for the people of Ireland.’ He believed that if people stand together there is nothing they cannot accomplish. That lesson is as relevant and necessary today as it was 130 years ago. So, Mayo the birthplace of Michael Davitt is a good place to start the fightback for rural communities which have been betrayed by the government.

Rural Ireland is under attack. Especially here in the west. A whole generation of young people are forced to leave. This GAA generation is playing our gaelic games in Brisbane, Birmingham and Baltimore instead of their own parish. As the social fabric of rural Ireland is undermined there is a growth in isolation, loneliness and suicide.

And this will worsen if the austerity treaty is ratified in the referendum. The Taoiseach signed that Treaty this morning. He wants to hand significant new powers over to the European Court of Justice and the European Commission.

Mr. Kenny is allowing these institutions to impose Thatcherite economic policies on democratically elected governments and to impose heavy fines where they believe these policies have not been adhered to.

And as part of this the Government plans to cut a further €8.6 Billion from the economy in the next three years to meet the Troika Deficit target of 3%. Enda Kenny’s and Eamonn Gilmore’s austerity treaty demands that this deficit be reduced to a 0.5% target.

This means that up to a further €6 billion in cuts and new taxes will be imposed! But thankfully the Irish people will have their say. The Irish people cannot afford this Treaty. Sinn Féin will campaign for a No vote. That is the democratic option.
The septic tank issue is one example of the indifference of the government and of policy makers to the needs of rural communities. The Government’s septic tank proposals are unfair to rural householders.

This mess belongs to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour. They have all been in power over the last 35 years and did nothing to resolve it. Rural dwellers funded their own septic tanks while urban dwellers have a state funded service.

Now to add to this unfairness and in the midst of a recession the government demands that septic tank owners bear the potentially huge cost for upgrading these tanks.

Sinn Féin supports the upgrading of septic tanks. Ground water and the environment must be protected. But to be fair to rural families they cannot bear the cost of this. Grants up to the full cost of upgrading must be available to the households affected.

Enda Kenny gave his word that no citizen would be denied access to public services because of where they live. Then he closed the A&E at Roscommon Hospital. Health services everywhere and public nursing beds are being cut.

Older people and those living on their own or in isolated areas do not feel secure in their homes as gardaí become less visible in rural areas. Poor public transport has always been a problem but the increase in the price of petrol and diesel have made matters worse. Rural roads are getting worse as the funding to local authorities is cut.

There is no doubt that the €30 million being cut from the rural transport scheme will impact on services which many people in rural Ireland, especially our older citizens, depend on.

School transport is being slashed and the cost almost doubled. The small local school is at the heart of most local communities. Rural schools and schools in Gaeltacht areas and Gaeltachtai those specialising in the teaching of the Irish language should be protected and our children’s educational future guaranteed. They also are under threat from government policy.

In many ways this is history repeating itself. The Dublin establishment abandoned the people of the north at the time of partition. They also abandoned the people west of the Shannon. Gerry Murray lent me John Healy’s ‘Nobody shouted stop’ book which chronicles that betrayal.

But people here were not broken by that policy. They survived. In 2012 in the run in to 2016 the Irish people deserve better. This is not the Ireland Davitt envisioned. This is not the Ireland proclaimed in the 1916 Proclamation.

This blog wants to commend the people of Mayo and the west who have taken to the streets in defense of their rights. Sinn Féin will stand with them. Sinn Féin will stand up for rural Ireland.

Our vision for our countryside and its people is inseparable from our vision for a new Ireland that embraces all of our people, in all parts of this island, and on the basis of equality.

Republicans are for a new Republic in which citizens have rights – the right to a job; to a home; to a decent standard of education and of health care; the right to live in a safe environment; to equality in the Irish language; and to participate fully in the democratic process.

Many of the values which shape our national character – community, heritage, culture – are drawn from our rural roots.

The Irish republican concept of Comhar na gComharsan, which is based on native Irish traditions going back many centuries, was given expression in the 20th century by a Mayo man, Seamus Ó Mongain of Doohoma, a life long republican and social activist and his friend and comrade Cathal Quinn from Killala. Comhar na gComharsan is about co-operation. It’s about people working together in common purpose for a better life.

An older tradition – Meitheal – captures this spirit of good neighbours, especially those in farming communities, coming together in support of each other to cut the hay, or turf, or bring in the crops.

As the seanfhocal says, ‘Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine’ – People live in one another’s shelter. Thinking people value this way of life that is unique to rural Ireland.

Everyone who loves Ireland needs to stand together in defense of rural Ireland and of your right to equal access to health, education and public services.

Sinn Féin believes that sustainable rural economies, that can offer employment to young people, can be built. We want to ensure that emigration should not be the future for your children.

There needs to be:
• A fair deal for rural households.
• Job opportunities in rural Ireland.
• Protection for rural schools.
• Equal access to health services
• Support for Gaeltacht areas.

In the last Dáil Sinn Féin produced three major Oireachtas reports focusing on rural Ireland:

• Awakening the West – Overcoming Social and Economic Inequality;
• A Report on the Future of Farming and Fishing in the West;
• and a report on Creating Greater Employment in the Agri-food Sector.

In the North we have taken responsibility for the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry on two occasions.

That is the measure of our commitment to rural Ireland.

So, while it is a time of adversity it is also a time of opportunity.

A lesser people confronted by centuries of colonization, of hardship and occupation, of division and emigration, would have collapsed under the weight of this burden.
The Irish people are made of sterner stuff. We have risen above all of that. And we will not allow this current crisis to break us. We will not allow the golden circle of bankers and bondholders, of developers and corrupt politicians to break us.

We are no mean people. There is a genius in the Irish people. And standing together – like Michael Davitt and the land league before us – we will prevail.

Stand together. Stand united. And there is nothing we cannot achieve.

1 comment:

Timothy Dougherty said...

hello Gerry,
Maybe it is always the old views and convictions, the real intellectural documents of a decliining world. The great reformers have to improve the the social orders, justice and meaning of history. The rural Ireland that creative humanity, they do flourish into the future. If a people and nation is to live, however their fate may be, they must endure.