On Thursday night last, the Longford Westmeath Green Party hosted a public meeting in Moate to discuss green alternatives for rural Ireland in the areas of transport, farming and rural development.
Local Councillor, Louise Heavin, opened the meeting with a presentation of changes she has been working on since her election in May.
“I have been working on a number of different changes in the Athlone Moate Municipal District since my election. Not all of my motions have been supported by fellow Councillors but I’m glad to say some important proposals have received support.
“I have successfully lobbied for more trees in urban spaces and my motion to limit the use of the harmful glyphosate weed killer also received broad support and should form part of the upcoming programme of works next year in the Council. I also received support for installing drinking water points along the Greenway and in town centres. I look forward to seeing our Council now act on the motions passed,” Cllr. Heavin remarked.
The Green Party Councillor noted that many of her proposals were still a “work in progress.”
“Some of my other proposals are going to take a little more work, for example, increased investment in active travel and not just tourist greenways unconnected to our towns. In the July meeting of the District, the Council confirmed that out of a €4.1million roads budget for the district, only €80,000 was spent on walking and cycling infrastructure which comprised of footpath repairs. Our priorities need to change and the Council must start looking towards investment in active travel which will ultimately benefit all road users,” Cllr. Heavin remarked.
Cllr. Heavin, who is a qualified architect, also spoke about initiatives for rural development which she would like to see implemented to improve local communities.
“In rural Ireland, we are lucky to have a rich fabric of great small communities with thriving sports clubs, good schools and local groups. Our current system for planning and development in this country does nothing to help reinforce these great places. These are places where people want to live, the kind of communities that are difficult to foster in a brand-new development or estate. It is all too often difficult for people to get accommodation in these communities within walking range of the local facilities and I would like to see the Council focus on developing a village plan for all small villages and identify sites in the village for community housing schemes. These schemes could provide serviced sites for self-builders, suitable accessible properties for older or less able people preventing rural isolation and also offer affordable rental schemes.
“I would also like to see the Government introduce a scheme to help buyers of older properties in town centres renovate these buildings. There is currently a scheme to assist first time buyers into new properties, but meanwhile the scheme to assist people renovating has been scrapped. Historic towns like Moate and Kilbeggan have great old high streets but have a lot of derelict properties. We need to properly support people who want to bring life back into the town centre,” Cllr. Heavin emphasised.
Senator Pippa Hackett, Green Party Spokesperson on Agriculture, addressed the crisis currently facing Irish farmers. Senator Hackett, an organic beef farmer from Offaly, highlighted the injustice that Irish farmers face.
“Farmers are constantly being told that our beef is the best yet we get below the average price for it in Europe. Our dairy also gets one of the lowest in Europe. Farmers have been encouraged to put all their eggs in a beef and dairy basket yet we are net importers of things we can grow very well like apples and potatoes,” Senator Hackatt stated.
Senator Hackett noted possible solutions such as proper support for farmers encouraging biodiversity and a radical proposal to develop the Irish beef industry akin to French wine, an industry which highlights the diversity in regions’ species and methods of production.
The final speaker was Green Party Spokesperson on Rural Affairs, Councillor Roisin Garvey who highlighted her work with the Green Schools initiative developing sustainable transport for schools including her success with the cycle train for Ennis National School and Walking Wednesdays where communities in rural areas are encouraged to walk to school.
She also talked about the establishment of Social Kitchens. These kitchens give local producers a place built to HIQA standards to prepare produce for local farmers markets and shops. The evening progressed to a interesting discussion on how these proposals could be developed in the communities in the Midlands.