A number of national bodies with common interests have come together to fight to protect and improve existing the existing standard of life in rural Ireland.
They intend highlighting the issues currently affecting the social and economic development of rural Ireland, and seeking change in government policy in these areas.
The bodies involved initially are Muintir na Tíre, The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, The Irish Countrywomen’s Association, the Irish Postmasters’ Union, the National Forum of Community Flood Committees, Macra na Feirme, and the Post Office Users’ Group.
Together these bodies represent over 100,000 members and further bodies have expressed interest in joining the alliance.
ICSA president Patrick Kent has said that the issues outlined in a Save Rural Ireland position paper launched by the bodies recently must be top priorities for the Government.
“Access to high-speed broadband is the modern equivalent of access to electricity, and unfortunately it appears that successive governments are showing a similar lack of urgency in extending this service to rural dwellers as their predecessors did in relation to electricity,” Kent said.
“From a farming point of view, critical schemes such as the new Basic Payment scheme and greening top up as well as the GLAS agri-environment scheme are increasingly pushing farmers towards on-line applications and follow-up.
“Government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture are insisting that more and more business is done on-line. The approach is that paper is the past, yet successive Governments have been too tardy in ensuring that the necessary broadband infrastructure is in place for many farmers in rural areas,” he said.
According to Kent the document makes a number of clear-cut proposals on the issue of rural broadband, particularly the provision of technical clarity on what will happen at the end of the National Broadband Plan, the reduction of civil engineering costs and the provision of support and advice to community groups.
“I would urge Minister White give these proposals serious and urgent attention. Rural dwellers are as entitled to comprehensive broadband services as their urban counterparts, but are quickly being left behind,” Kent said.
The closure of rural post offices is another development that must be arrested if rural communities are to survive, Kent said.
“Post offices provide a wide range of top-class services at local level and it is logical to suggest that ways of expanding these services should be examined, rather than cutting them off. The post office should be the hub of each local community, and ICSA is firmly backing the call to suspend the closure of rural post offices at least until the report of the Post Office Development Group has been issued and adequately considered.”