I am glad to have this opportunity to speak on this important matter this evening. There has been much talk about rural Ireland since I was first elected. At the same time, with my hand on my heart, matters are not improving for rural Ireland. In fact, it is worse they are getting. The most effective way to help rural Ireland is jobs. Sadly, very few jobs are being directed to Kerry through Enterprise Ireland or IDA Ireland. If established industries like Liebherr Cranes, Munster Joinery, Michael Cronin’s Readymix and Fexco in Killorglin were taken out of the heart of Kerry, one could put up a gate at the county bounds with a “Closed” sign on it.
There is tourism in Kerry but that has been hurt badly by the Government with the increase of the VAT rate by 4.5% in one foul twist. Kerry has a Minister of State but this is what he allowed to happen. There are jobs coming into Dublin city, day in and day out. Only the other day, 660 jobs were announced for Dublin. However, the Government is not able to house them or police them. They are killing each other in ones, twos and threes in the city. There is no attempt to direct some of these jobs to Kerry or the west. There are places being starved and deprived of jobs.
On top of that, the Government, along with Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, were bound to the drink-driving laws of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. The social fabric of rural Ireland has been blown to smithereens. People are isolated in their homes now because they are not allowed to have a pint or two going home from work. They can hardly come out the following morning to go to mass. I have said here before that the Government has the churches closed, along with the Garda stations and many of the schools.
Many people ask me why the Government fired my good friend and neighbour, Pat Spillane. He was doing great work on behalf of rural communities. The Government got rid of him because he was telling it what it did not want to hear. He did much good work but he is now left behind.
Young people are disappearing from of south Kerry at an alarming rate.
To take last year, one national school in Iveragh enrolled only two children. That is a fact. At an IFA meeting in Sneem three or four weeks ago, eight people were in attendance and all of them were septuagenarians aged over 73 years. That is what is happening.
I highlighted the issue of home help yesterday and between interruptions and one thing and another, I do not know if I was heard properly. I will give the Minister of State an example of two elderly ladies who are trying to stay in their homes as long as possible. The home help of one of the elderly women has been cut to 20 minutes in the evening. When the home help arrives, the lady asks her if she could make a dinner for her but the home help tells her she cannot do that in 20 minutes but will make her a sandwich and shower her. The lady told me she is sick to the teeth of showers and she is hungry. She told me she asked the home help if her husband would live on sandwiches when he comes home from work every evening and if he would be happy if she told him she would give him a sandwich instead of dinner. That elderly lady is trying to stay living in a rural place. She cannot get the meals on wheels service because she lives too far from Killarney. She is not being provided for, which is a sad reflection of what is happening in rural Ireland.
The other lady is well into her 80s but she is in good shape. Sadly, her family believe she would be better off in a home but she does not want to go into a home. Between paying for private home help and what she is getting from the HSE, she is left with only €57 a week on which to live. That is what the Minister of State and his Government is presiding over. I could take the Minister of State down to those two houses in Kerry to see what is happening. It is a shame and a disgrace that this is happening in Kerry. I am sad that I have to highlight an issue as personal as this one but what I have said is the God's gospel truth in terms of what is happening in Kerry at the present time.
There is much talk about schemes for towns and villages. I admire the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring. He is a good man but he goes on a bit. Some of the things he should be providing for are not being provided. He gave us funding for the local improvement schemes but I remind the Minister of State that we have 800 applications on hand. At the rate we are going, it will be 20 years before the last of those applications is seen to if more funding is not provided.
Houses in towns and villages are falling down because many people have abandoned houses. Rathmore on the N72 is the first town one comes to on the road into Kerry. I am amazed at the number of unoccupied buildings in the town, many of which are not fit to live in. It would be helpful to have a scheme to help address the state of such buildings in towns like Cahirciveen or even Kilgarvan. There are many empty houses in Kilgarvan and it appears there is no future for them. In a very short space of time, the roofs of these houses will fall in. Caherciveen is a very a popular tourist spot on the Ring of Kerry but if something is not done sooner rather later to address the state of some of the buildings in the town, many of the roofs will collapse and the town will look terrible. In spite of the great work done all over the county by Tidy Towns committees, which I praise on high for the great work they do, they will not be able to camouflage the damage that will be done to villages and towns in the next seven to ten years. The roofs of most of those unoccupied buildings will collapse if a scheme is not initiated to address them. The Minister of State is a member of the Government that is delegated with the power to address these matters.
Many villages are practically closing down. In Lauragh, the post office and shop have closed, in Currow, the pub and shop have closed and in Gneevgullia, the shop and post office have closed. Scartaglin has been waiting for the past 30 to 40 years for a treatment plant. Castleisland has been waiting for a sewerage extension scheme since 1986. Rathmore and Kilgarvan post offices have closed. I could go on and on.
Another serious issue that I raised in recent days concerns people who wish to build their own homes. They will pay for that to be done and they apply for planning permission to Kerry County Council. However, we have one serial objector who appeals to An Bord Pleanála when Kerry County Council decides to grant planning permission. An Bord Pleanála then refuses planning and overrules decisions even when an inspector has called to the site and said the application should be granted. We do not know what is going on but this would not happen in any other country. These people would not get away with that in any other country and I am asking the Minister of State not to let them get away with it in this country or in County Kerry.
Other factors are preventing locals from getting planning permission. The Taoiseach, when he was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, issued a direction to Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in 2012 not to allow people to open an entrance to a new dwelling on a national secondary road or have access to a new dwelling from existing entrances. This rule applies on a road that is miles long and where it would safe to have such access. Kerry County Council granted planning but this rule that was signed into law by the then Minister deprived five families from getting planning permission. That is what is happening in rural Ireland. I could go on. The Government needs to wake up. There are things that can and should be done. I advise the Minister of State that the Government is letting the people down and that is the Gospel truth.