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'If they're talking about Oxford Street having problems, surely rural Ireland needs a leg up'

A new government scheme is giving €100k to six rural towns to try and bring people back into town centres, but will it work?

THE GOVERNMENT’S PLAN to give six towns in rural Ireland €100,000 so they can try to develop ways to entice more people to live in town centres has been criticised in the Dáil as “ridiculous”, but locals in some of the towns have said it is necessary to give such areas a “leg up”.

In October of this year, the government said that six towns in rural Ireland had been picked to receive €100,000 as an invitation to “develop innovative proposals to encourage more people to live in rural town centres”. 

The government hopes that these towns can act as an example before rolling out similar funding to other areas.

Castleblayney is one of the towns that was chosen, and local councillor Aidan Campbell told that steps to rejuvenate rural Ireland are necessary after “the lost decade” following the banking collapse and subsequent recession.

“We’ve an awful lot going for us here, but there are a lot of challenges facing main street areas across Ireland, and not just in rural areas,” he said. “If you look at areas of Dublin, such as Dun Laoghaire, it would have shops on many of the main street closed down. People are going shopping online a lot more now.

Unfortunately that’s the way of it. But we can try to use funding like this and make it go a long way.

‘Pilot scheme’

The towns chosen for the scheme were Boyle, Co Roscommon; Callan, Co Kilkenny; Ballinrobe, Co Mayo; Banagher, Co Offaly; Castleblayney, Co Monaghan; Cappoquin, Co Waterford. 

Announcing the move, Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring said these six would act as a pilot scheme for far more funding to be provided to rural Ireland in the future. 

He said: “The €1 billion Rural Regeneration and Development Fund provides an opportunity to take the emerging ideas to implementation stage.

The aim is to be in a position to determine the viability of each proposal in the first part of 2019, in advance of the next call for proposals under the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund.

Earlier this month, however, Ring came under sustained criticism from Sinn Féin’s Martin Kenny over the scheme. 

Kenny said: “Boyle in County Roscommon contains dozens of old buildings that are falling down. One could spend €100,000 on just one of these buildings.

I cannot envisage anybody in London or Birmingham being encouraged to move back because €100,000 is coming to their hometown. It is ridiculous. Somebody needs to get a grip on the scale of the problem because this will not solve it.

He went on to say that the study is basically “money to pay for a study in six different towns”. 

Ring responded that Kenny was “missing the point”. He said: “The €100,000 is not to do up any premises. The €100,000 is to sit down with the local people, chambers of commerce and other groups.

“These six towns might come back with six solutions for their towns. They may all be the same or different towns might come up with different solutions.”

Highlighting Boyle, Ring added that the people of the town were “delighted” to be included in the scheme, and are happy that they can plan for the future.


This Monaghan town was the birthplace of country music star Big Tom McBride, who died earlier this year.

A statue of the man had already commissioned prior to his death, and several thousand people were there when President Michael D Higgins unveiled it in September.

“It’s a major part of our town now,” Campbell said. “We attracted massive numbers for that. We have a beautiful park, we have vibrant community organisations. We’re looking at this €100k to have a look at ways to explore the uniqueness of our town.”

The councillor said that Castleblayney is no different to any other town in rural Ireland and while it has many positive aspects, it does need to adapt and look at ways to bring businesses and families back in.

Of particular concern is the amount being spent by Irish people on online shopping, and Campbell said that businesses closing down is not a unique problem.

“I saw comments from the British Chancellor Philip Hammond recently,” he said. “He was talking about Oxford Street and was saying that given the growth in line shopping, it would have to come up with new ideas to adapt.

If they’re talking about Oxford Street having problems, surely rural Ireland needs a leg up.

Situated right by the border with Northern Ireland, the threat of Brexit is looming large for Castleblayney and Campbell was clear that the way things used to be belong firmly in the past.

On the drive from Castleblayney to Dundalk, for example, road users enter and then leave Northern Ireland with no border infrastructure barring the way. But it wasn’t always like that. 

“A long time ago we had the British army on the border crossings,” he said. “But that’s all gone now. It’s imperative that must be maintained.

Going back to the €100k, it’s not a bricks and mortar thing. That amount of money wouldn’t build an awful lot. But it’s about looking at practical solutions that can be delivered. We’re delighted with it. It’s a decent step in the right direction for us.

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John Pratt is a councillor for the Dungarvan/Lismore area of Waterford County Council.

He’s hopeful that the scheme can give a boost to Cappoquin. 

The Labour councillor said: “I believe it can be a positive step. Cappoquin wouldn’t have a lot of people living in the town centre. But whether it’s the only way of sorting out, I’m not sure.”

He said measures to rejuvenate parts of rural Ireland were very welcome, but are coming at a time when some towns have already lost many of their amenities.

“The likes of Ballyjamesduff, it’s had the credit union gone, the post office gone and just one pub left,” Pratt said. 

On the funding for Cappoquin, Pratt said he believed there was a lot of buy-in in the area to the plan. 

He added: “But I think it’s important for everybody to have an input so it comes to the people.”

In terms of the problems that local representatives in Waterford have been facing, it is very much tied up with the problems in trying to entice people to move back into towns.

Housing remains one of the biggest issues, with the difficulty of sourcing Housing Assistance Payment (Hap) tenancies posing a problem, particularly in bigger towns like Dungarvan.

“People are genuinely struggling,” Pratt said. “It’s affecting their mental health. We give the advice we can, but I’ve a couple of cases I’ve dealt with that have been very worrying in recent times.”

With Castleblayney, Cappoquin and the four others now acting as the test sites for seeing how a community can rejuvenate their town with a relatively small injection of funding, the government is certainly hoping whatever they do can act as a template as they roll out further funding across the country.

About the author:

Sean Murray

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