The message of a “future of rural Ireland” has been carried by Macra members to government buildings in Dublin today (Wednesday, April 26) after walking 79km through the night.

With “countless blisters and many sore feet” Macra members arrived at the Department of the Taoiseach to submit their list of solutions to the challenges facing youth in rural Ireland.

Over the course of the 16h journey starting in Athy, Co. Kildare, members shared “inspiring” stories of how rural Ireland shaped them and what their wants for the future are, Macra president John Keane said.

Addressing a crowd of approximately 50 members in Dublin, Keane said what is needed now is action, engagement and negotiation.

“Today we have demonstrated, today we have made a point. Today, as an organisation, we have made a stand. Our political representatives are listening – we hope.

“Rural Ireland is dependent on youth – youth will be the future. The future of rural Ireland is dependent on negotiations and engagement with the likes of Macra,” he said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, and Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) Martin Heydon will meet Macra today.

The organisation will be discussing eight main challenges facing rural youth. These are:

  • Access to affordable housing and “cumbersome” housing planning guidelines;
  • “Disjointed and sparce” healthcare services for rural communities;
  • The government’s definition of a “family farm”;
  • “No recognition or engagement” by government on a farming succession scheme;
  • Lack of planning for the future of rural communities;
  • Imposition of “quotas” on young farmers availing of grant aid support;
  • Lack of public transport for rural Ireland;
  • Proposals to rewet large areas of rural Ireland.

The access to affordable housing and planning is affecting everybody and it is the one fact that is causing the most young people to emigrate, incoming president, Elaine Houlihan said.

Supporting Macra members in Dublin today, Senator Tim Lombard said Marca’s 79km march from Athy to Dublin overnight has been a “very powerful demonstration”.

A Macra member in Dublin today

Stressing the need to ensure that those issues are heard on the floor of the Dáil and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Senator Lombard said:

“If we don’t support these young farmers and young people, we are going to have a huge issue regarding our society and where the agricultural community will go.”

Rural Ireland

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil today that more young farmers are needed in Ireland to lead a “decade of major change” in the agriculture and land-use sector.

Recently published figures show that the population in every county in Ireland is increasing and that unemployment is close to an “all-time low”, the Taoiseach, who claimed that rural Ireland is “doing okay”, said.

He said he can assure that as “long as this government is in office” all of the schemes and tax breaks that exist for young farmers will be protected.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture and rural development, Deputy Claire Kerrane has described the Taoiseach’s “dismissive” response to the realities facing rural Ireland and fears for its future as “way out of touch”.

“The government has a responsibility to take the concerns of people in rural Ireland seriously, yet we are still waiting for them to step up to the plate and deliver the real change that is needed,” Deputy Kerrane said.