Austerity Hits Rural Ireland

Dear LookLeft,

Budget measures fail to address the serious problems in rural communities, with little to stimulate the rural economy beyond limited land rental reform. Fine Gael and Labour’s so called ‘neutral budget’ has not done anything to address the devastation neoliberal and austerity politics has had on rural communities whose very existence is threatened by economic and social stagnation.

Minister Simon Coveney promised that the Budget would “be a big day for agriculture”, but there, like the rest of the Budget, it is the most well off who will benefit from the measures brought in. Michael Fitzmaurice TD outlined the failure of the government to help the small farmers in danger of going out of business. Of the budget he said “there’s no point promising someone money in a year if they’ll be gone out of business by Christmas.”

Any measures to assist the wider non farming rural communities were lacking from the budget. There is nothing being done to address the gulf in wealth between rural and urban Ireland. The extent of this problem is seen in the substantial gap between median income, with rural median income up to €13,000 less than that of Dublin.

Government policy has done little to tackle the rural-urban divide, it has instead been seen as a normal contrast between the core and periphery, which has created as sense of isolation in rural areas; this is the reason Danny Healy Rae sought to change the drink driving laws in rural Ireland (and why people supported this idea). The impact of policies on rural communities needs to be carefully considered through measures such as Sinn Féin’s commitment to rural proofing.

With much of the rural economy relying on farming, issues such as the low-cost selling of vegetables affect all of rural society. According to IFA president Eddie Downey, low-cost selling has imposed a 10% cut on income. This and the crisis in beef prices must be addressed if rural communities are to survive.

Minister Noonan, while recognising the key role of agriculture in the Irish economy, has not offered any real reform to address the effects of austerity on rural communities. Instead, the Fine Gael-Labour government has sought to incentivise large land-owners over small farmers who work two jobs, with no plans to combat the isolation of rural communities.

Brendan O’Connor