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Rural Communities: Fighting for a Sustainable Future

Irish Rural Link held its 21st Anniversary Conference recently at the Connemara West Campus in Letterfrack, Co. Galway. The conference, entitled ‘Rural Communities: Fighting for a Sustainable Future’ was addressed by the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins. Irish Rural Link was founded in Letterfrack 21 years ago to represent the interests of rural communities who are affected by disadvantage or marginalisation by highlighting the problems, advocating appropriate responses and sharing best practice.

Teagasc economist Dr. Kevin Heanue gave the keynote address to the conference. In a wide-ranging presentation entitled ‘Development in Rural Areas: Exit or Voice?’ Dr Heanue outlined the changes in key indicators such as population, employment, disposable income and poverty rates in rural Ireland since 2006. Based on analysis carried out in Teagasc’s Rural Economy and Development programme, he said: “a long term pattern of population decline persists in many rural areas; most of the employment gained during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ era has been lost and many of those areas which experienced most growth during the boom times are now experiencing relatively lower disposable income and higher poverty rates”.

Identifying a vacuum in terms of rural policy since the NESC report and White Paper in the late 1990’s, Dr Heanue suggested that “rural communities need to proactively engage to challenge conventional wisdom about development options and to drive the formulation of a new rural policy framework”.

Dr Kevin Heanue is also Chairman of Connemara West Plc, the rural community development organisation based in Letterfrack that hosted the Irish Rural Link conference. His presentation to the Irish Rural Link conference included analysis by Teagasc colleagues Dr. David Meredith, Dr. Cathal O’Donoghue, Dr. Jason Loughrey and Dr. John Lennon.