Urban-rural divide is set to become a chasm

Patricia Feehily

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Patricia Feehily

Urban-rural divide is set to become a chasm

John Moran has suggested that Ireland's future is urban and not rural

JUST when I thought that the time had come for rural Ireland to shake off its depressing victimhood, become much more assertive and stop the incessant whinging over exaggerated rumours of its demise, along comes Limerick man, John Moran, with an idea to prioritise the urbanisation of the whole population in the interests of the country’s future prosperity.

No more bog trotters with a huge sense of grievance then; no more culchies with a genetic sense of entitlement. We’re all going to be slap-happy city slickers in this new concrete utopia that will still be called the Emerald Isle, presumably.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Paying lip service to rural Ireland, which has been the case since Brian Boru routed the Danes, was infinitely preferable to this new kind of straight talking. I just can’t take it. It was like someone had just poured pesticide on my rural roots and I could feel them shrivelling up.

No doubt, the Danes, who were the first to urbanise us, were applauding Mr Moran’s heroic vision from their ancient settlement graves on the banks of the Liffey, but I found myself reaching for the pike in the rafters and drafting a new proclamation of independence for rural Ireland – just in case this new Government was ever foolish enough to heed his words. He was after all, secretary general of the Department of Finance in the last Government and, during the last five years or so, wielded a lot of influence in overall fiscal policy, which obviously failed to wow the electorate, urban or rural. But the omens aren’t good. Instead of creating the expected new Ministry for Rural Affairs last week, they’ve lumped rural Ireland in with arts and culture. And, seeing that culture is regarded among the powers that be as largely an urban phenomenon, it means that most of the money allocated to the Minister, will be swallowed up in the new global city – or cities, because, apparently, we need more than one.

Now maybe I’m over-reacting. Maybe my imagination is running riot and there is still no real substance to Kavanagh’s ‘hungry fiend, screaming the apocalypse of clay, in every corner of this land'. Surely, disadvantaged farmers won’t give up their hard won status for the joys of urban living, without a fight; surely the turf cutters will never allow themselves to be urbanised.

Nevertheless, I still think we, the people of rural Ireland, should be proactive and stand our ground while we have it. We need to make it clear that we don’t want to live in a global city and be part of “a melting pot of ideas” among smart, innovative, entrepreneurial people. We’re smart enough ourselves. We also need to tell the upcoming main global city to take its greasy hands off the Shannon River and drink Dollymount Strand dry if it wants to bask in global glory. But what we need most of all is to maintain our connection to the earth and preserve it and our basic pastoral identity from these latter day Viking city builders.

Mr Moran says that the taxpayers can’t afford to subsidise rural Ireland any longer. If the country is to prosper, we must abandon our small town mentality and the ghost estates we encouraged developers to build on the outskirts of small villages less than ten years ago, and concentrate our resources on creating a ‘global city’. And maybe a couple of more, if we can fit them onto our 70,283 square kilometres of space without ruining the skyline and blocking out the sun. But you’d think that rural dwellers don’t pay any tax at all the way we are being dismissed as a hindrance to the advance of the nation. And you’d never think either that Irish agriculture contributes €24 billion to the national economy every year.

The citizens of Limerick, however, will be glad to hear that Mr Moran wants to see his own city transformed into one of those “turbo charged engines of growth” with its population soaring to 600,000 to 750,000.

Presumably, rural west Limerick, Clare and Tipperary will be left to the hen harrier and the privileged few who will still be able to live there, with a private jet parked outside, untroubled by either the taxman or the taxpayer. But, how the GAA is going to deal with the new demographic, I have no idea.

It’s a bold vision alright and Mr Moran himself admits that “there will be casualties in terms of life as we’ve known it”. But what I find most alarming is not the cursory dismissal of such potential casualties or, when it comes down to it, of rural demands for something essential like a better broadband service. Neither is it the ignoring of rural attachments, loyalties and identity. It’s not even the blinkered vision of a metropolitan paradise without a mention of the social problems that would inevitably ensue. Unlike the Vikings of yore, we can’t even run a medium sized city as it is, without creating ghettoes.

No, what alarms me most is the suggestion that older people living in fear in isolated rural houses where they were born and where they grew up, would be better off being urbanised in “in-town, high-end, ageing-friendly, independent living solutions, with concierge help and in-house medical services, which would allow the residents to stroll down to the shops and markets”. Honestly, I can’t think of anything - outside of Orwell’s nightmare world of 1984 – that would be less appealing for a rural dweller like myself, in his or her twilight years.

As for the ‘symbiotic relationship’ between what’s left of rural life and the new concrete wonderland now being imagined, I’m even more sceptical. I’ve had several symbiotic relationships myself in my time, and none of them ever really worked to my advantage. So why should this one?