Fergal O’Brien of IBEC weighs in on rural sustainability/development. He doesn’t weigh in with much though:
- A Strategic Government Plan
- Another Strategic Government Plan
- Ambitious Investment
Right. Combining this with Kathy Sheridan’s typical (probably) well-meaning but utterly flawed piece today, it’s clear to see a lack of belief in local control of local issues.
O’Brien’s suggestions are vague at best - the closest we come to an actual idea is an increase in manufacturing, as long as we have the “right cost base”. It’d be lovely if Irish export manufacturing was to flourish again (or for the first time?) in rural Ireland but this seems highly unlikely, for several reasons. We can’t compete with cheap labour elsewhere without slashing wages hugely and we can’t slash wages because we already have a very unbalanced low-wage/high-cost economy. We also can’t compete with the likes of Germany or somewhere for high-tech manufacturing, because rural Ireland doesn’t have the skilled/experienced labour force required to do that on any kind of scale, nevermind the infrastructure (internet, phone coverage, water, roads, etc) to support it.
Overall, O’Brien is basically advocating a top-down approach to target direct investment to under-nourished parts of the country. It seems to me like there’s no point being ambitious if you haven’t based that vision on any kind of lived reality. There’s no point dreaming up plans for how rural Ireland could be if you don’t actually consider how it is, and why it is how it is.
Sheridan’s article is almost more pernicious, because it uses the way local TDs are forced to attend to constituents individual needs as a mask for the way those same constituents are robbed of all other political agency in their daily lives. By centralising all power in the Oireachtas, people have no choice but to use their TD to get medical cards or to secure funding for a school or whatever. It’s corrupt, sure, but they way things are, what other option do people have?
As someone who grew up in Brian Cowen’s constituency, it’s easy to see the impact that having a local Taoiseach can have on services in the area. Both of the schools I went to were able to expand/rebuild (after I’d left) only because of Cowen. He might have had a hand in larger follies, but those schools would still be too small and falling apart if he hadn’t intervened. The same goes for TDs who secure medical cards - it’s obviously not right, but who else can people turn to?
There’s a huge lack of agency there, which breeds bitterness, apathy and corruption. People have increasingly little say in the way their lives and communities are treated, largely because every issue is considered a national issue, with decisions made by people who are (physically, mentally) further and further away. This is why the EU directive on turf harvesting is so hated.
Yes, it’s terrible that Charlie Flanagan can’t give his speech on his work in the North to his constituents without being reminded of local potholes, but why is he the only one who can do anything about it? Why aren’t the council doing something about it? Why should people care about what he’s doing in the North or in China, when problems at home are naturally going to be far more pressing for the people who voted for him?
Sheridan has lately been spinning an angle that suggests we don’t hold our politicians to account, with the inference that all our troubles are of our own making. (Who exactly the “we’ is in this equation is typically ill-defined.) But as we’ve seen recently, the only acceptable way to hold a politician “to account” in this country is to not vote for them. Anything more and it’s anarchy. People have been stripped of almost all other power and so it makes sense that people will leverage that vote against their direct needs and the needs of their locality, their daily life.
O’Brien and Sheridan both miss the point here. The latter advocates a sacrificial forgetting of “local issues” in favour of the greater common good of “national issues” (talks in the north and trade with China?), while the former effectively sidelines local government in favour of another centralised “plan for rural Ireland”. Both of these ideas would continue the stripping of power, democracy and agency from people who are “outside politics”.