Even the disco falls foul of decline of rural Ireland

Clifden is one of the busiest towns in the county during the summer months – but come the winter, it’s practically dead.

And while other communities are bemoaning the threat to schools, post offices, Garda stations or the GAA club, Cllr Eileen Mannion has raised the issue of an ailing night life.

There isn’t even a nightclub in Clifden – the nearest one is in Westport, she told a special planning meeting of Galway County Council on Monday.

And no, the Councillor wasn’t looking to trip the light fantastic in the bright lights of a club but pointing out the real threat to rural Galway.

Councillors are so concerned with the decline of rural Ireland that they called for a one item meeting to discuss planning.

Like her colleagues, Cllr Mannion believes that if the planning regulations aren’t relaxed, nobody will be settling down in places like Connemara.

“The fact that there is no nightclub in Clifden shows the lack of young people living in the town. We should encourage people into the area, not put them off with strict planning regulations.

“We should be looking at applications on a case by case basis, not bringing up a lot of issues in pre-planning meetings which usually puts people off applying at all.

“In summer Clifden is certainly busy and alive but come winter, it’s a different picture,” she said.

She wasn’t the only one worried about the decline of rural Galway on Monday.

Cllr Seosamh Ó Cualáin said he only came across one house when he travelled nine miles north of where he lived in Conamara.

“There’s an area bigger than County Louth with barely 1000 people living it. It might be a scenic route alright but scenery won’t rejuvenate a rural area.

“Without housing, couples can’t settle. They should be encouraged, not discouraged,” he said.

Cllr Ivan Canning put it almost poetically when he said “if there’s no housing, there’s no people and if there’s no people, there’s no community.”

Cllr Joe Byrne said planning was particularly restricted where he came from – Kinvara/Gort.

“How do we sustain south Galway rural housing to ensure we keep schools open or else they will be closing in 15 years’ time.”

He has a particular concern about people from Kinvara and other settlements with populations of 1500 or less being considered ‘urban’ and this being an obstacle when locals seek to build a few miles out the road on a ‘rural’ site.

“There aren’t any sites in Kinvara to build on so they have no choice but to seek planning permission on sites, family land, a few miles away,” he added.

There will be no need for pubs, schools and the GAA will be decimated if the current planning issues continue unchanged said Cllr Gerry Finnerty.

He pointed out that it cost an average €20,000 to prepare a planning application and that instead of imposing that type of expense on young couples, the Council should be helping them.

And some couples wanted to build near their parents so that they could have childminders for their children and later live nearby to mind elderly parents, said Cllr Martina Kinnane.

Every councillor who addressed the meeting had one or more issues with current planning regulations and it was obvious that they were – cross party – united in seeing a return to more discretion by planners to allow families to live near one another and to stay in their own communities wherever possible.

To free up some sites, Cllr Michael Fahy proposed (seconded by Cllr Finnerty and Cllr Joe Byrne) that farmers be allowed to sell one site and not pay capital gains tax on it.

And though it was agreed that it would be sent in a submission to the Department of the Environment, Cllr Noel Thomas quipped that you could sell all the sites in the world but if planning restrictions remained nobody could build on them.

Director of Services, Catherine McConnell reminded councillors that their rural housing policy was geared towards ensuring people had “intrinsic links to communities in which they sought planning permission” and were fully compliant with the National Spatial Strategy which identified areas under strong urban pressure and rural decline.