Proper steps need to be followed and alternatives sought before rural services are cut, that’s according to James Claffey, policy and communication officer at Irish Rural Link.
The Moate-based national network represents rural communities across the country and has come out against new proposals from Bus Eireann to cut several services including Athlone to Westport.
“We need to start taking proper steps before announcing closures or losses of services,” said Mr Claffey. “We need a structured consultation process with social and economic analysis as well as realistic alternatives to services that are being lost,” he explained.
According to Irish Rural Link a protocol in simple terms challenges the proposers of closures to manage them in a way that allows the community to have an input. This is initiated by conducting a socio-economic analysis in terms of reasons for closure and the consequences of same. It also allows the community to examine the issues involved and perhaps put forward proposals that could offset the need for a closure. It equally puts some obligations on the organisation, government or private company that proposes closure.
Irish Rural Link say they will continue to call for a public enquiry into Bus Eireann to identify which routes are subsidised by public finances, how much each route is receiving and which routes are profitable. “Without this information it is difficult to understand the scale of the problem and possible solutions,” it says.
Hope for rural protocol came after the closing of many services in the Midlands including Ferbane’s Ulster Bank, with services being moved to Athlone.
“All national and European Union policy points to the urgency to renew rural communities so that they can become sustainable in economic and social terms.... So when Ulster Bank announced that it was closing another 14 branches in 2015, there was little surprise in rural areas,” explained Seamus Boland, CEO of Irish Rural Link.
Irish Rural Link are taking the threat to rural Ireland very seriously - they are currently involved in a study with NUI Galway using Moate as a case study.
The study is looking at three aspects of the town: education, services, and economy. This includes looking at the benefits of Moate Business College, services in the town that keep people there, and the possible economic boost that the Dublin to Galway cycleway can have on the town when the Moate section opens.
Community groups worried about the closure or lack of services are welcome to contact Irish Rural Link for help and advice.