Irish Rural Link (IRL), the national network representing the interest of rural communities, is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a conference on Friday, May 6, at the Sheraton Hotel in Athlone Co. Westmeath, which will look at a changing rural Ireland.

“Irish Rural Link was established in 1991 and since then, enormous change has taken place in rural Ireland. There have been many challenges for rural communities and many of these still remain today,” said Seamus Boland, CEO of IRL.

“We continue to witness the closure of essential rural services, loss of jobs, a declining and ageing population and migration of young people to take up better quality job opportunities in cities and larger urban centres.”

However, there have also been some positive changes in more recent years, he said.

“The development of remote working and digital hubs and the roll out of high-speed broadband can help make rural areas a place where people can work close to where they live and allow people become more involved and play a larger role in their rural community,” Boland added.

With a panel of rural development experts and influencers, the conference will reflect on a changing rural Ireland over the past 30 years, the lessons that can be learned from these changes and the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in for the next 30 years.

The conference will look at topics such as rural planning; rural enterprise; the changing role of women; rural community development; and changes in agriculture and farming life over the past 30 years.

It will then explore what opportunities and challenges rural Ireland may face over the next 30 years in terms of the environmental challenge, transport and rural development, and how government policies can support and address these opportunities and challenges.

Seamus Boland, CEO Irish Rural Link.

Rural Ireland, Boland said, has been fraught with many challenges over the past 30 years, including high emigration and migration to larger towns and cities; ageing population; closure of services; and loss of jobs.

“Irish Rural Link has provided a platform for communities in rural areas to share their concerns and put forward proposals to possible solutions to revive their local community and make rural Ireland a more sustainable place for people to work and live,” the IRL CEO said.

“Irish Rural Link sees many opportunities for rural Ireland and sees it at the forefront of providing many of the solutions as we address climate change, higher food and energy costs, transition to a greener and more digitalised society as well as providing a greater sense of well-being for people and communities.”

Due to Covid-19 restrictions in place in 2021, IRL postponed the celebratory conference until now

It wanted to have the conference in-person as it is an opportune time to acknowledge and commemorate the work done by its community champions as part of the Covid-19 community outreach programme IRL delivered in partnership with its colleagues in The Wheel, said Seamus.

“These champions, dedicated their time during the early months of Covid-19 to help those most in need during lockdown restrictions and made sure they were linked in with essential services,” he said.

The conference will be opened by Minister of Justice, Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands, Heather Humphreys, who will also make the presentation to the community champions.

The conference will also showcase the work of some of its members, with stands on show during the gathering. The conference begins at 9.30a.m with tea and coffee and registration is from 9.15a.m