I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for choosing this Topical Issue matter and thank the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, for attending to take the question.
The issue I highlight arose from a public meeting held in Newmarket-on-Fergus on the evening of Monday, 2 December. It was attended by all the local Members of the Oireachtas - Deputies and Senators - and the local county councillors, as well as the Garda inspector at Shannon. It was well attended, with more than 700 people, and was a call to us as Members to highlight the issues facing villages such as Newmarket-on-Fergus, which is a case study of what is happening to many villages and towns throughout Ireland. Newmarket-on-Fergus is a town close to Shannon and Ennis that has been bypassed by the M18 and it should do better than it does, which is the point people wished to highlight to the local Oireachtas Members. The problem is mirrored throughout rural Ireland.
The issues raised included the lack of basic services, amenities and facilities in the village; the fact that all the shops and many pubs have closed; the poor streetscape; and the lack of proper lighting, footpaths and public transport. Anxieties were also raised about policing services not being visible or being at a remove from Newmarket-on-Fergus. The town has a small station, which is manned infrequently for a few hours per week, and the policing service comes from Shannon. The issues in that regard were the lack of visibility of gardaí on the ground, a slow response time when the Garda is contacted, and a great deal of anti-social behaviour and illegal drug-taking. There is great concern that such activity is happening in a small village. There has also been a loss of GP services. A long-standing GP in Newmarket-on-Fergus retired last May but a replacement has not been found, which is a source of great anxiety for the community because people have to travel to Shannon or Ennis for a service. There is a lack of support for the public health nurse, the community intervention schemes, and home helps and voluntary groups in general. The loss of a GP is a substantial issue.
The story is familiar throughout Ireland and demonstrates how easily the fabric of a rural society can unravel. Newmarket-on-Fergus has benefited from supports from the Government and from the town and village renewal scheme, through which it received €200,000 in 2017. It received €500,000 from LEADER and €200,000 from a local philanthropic fund - the Tomar Trust - and it produced €300,000 of its own money to build community services in the area. Obair, the local community service, provides services from the cradle to the grave, including elderly services, unemployment services, a community crèche and meals on wheels, the last of which extend throughout south Clare, to Quin, Durra, Newcastle, Bunratty, Kilkishen, Kilmurry and Sixmilebridge. It is an extensive service that radiates from the town centre and the funding for it was welcome. It has a community café and educational courses.
Newmarket-on-Fergus has received substantial funding. Nevertheless, the issues raised on Monday night were cross-departmental. They spanned health, transport, housing, justice and education, and how the town interacted with the county council. The residents highlighted that while they have been given support, there is much more they could do if they were given additional supports. Not least in respect of policing, medical services and the upkeep and structure of the village, they believe that a great deal more could be done for them.