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24/10/2021

Ballinaglera GAA Club issue stark warning about the future of rural clubs in Leitrim

We need to shout stop or we will be left with rural wastelands

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Ballinaglera GAA club has written a letter to the Leitrim County Board and to all public representatives in Co Leitrim to outline the dire consequences the current planning regulations are having on rural clubs in the county.

Strict application of the planning regulations in Co Leitrim has all but stopped the construction of new houses in the countryside, and by extension the populations of these parishes have dropped dramatically.

With reduced numbers of people living locally, the threat to the survival of rural GAA clubs is very real.

The letter is penned by the Ballinaglera club and signed by Chairman, Padraig Loughlin and Secretary, Enda Gilrane.

In the letter they state there is an urgent need to raise awareness regarding the difficulties faced by young people when looking to build a new house in the parish.

"This is sucking the lifeblood out of communities such as ours. Unless things change dramatically in Leitrim, one can safely predict that in the near future, there will no longer be 24 GAA clubs in the county. In fact from our own analysis of the situation, children born in Leitrim today will instead have a choice of only 10 or 12 clubs with whom they can play their adult football, 3 or 4 in the North of the county and 8 or 9 in the South. This is a shocking indictment of rural development policy andin particular, the planning laws in this county.

"There are two things that sustain rural Leitrim, Football and Farming and that has been the case for the most of the last half century. They are the two remaining pillars of rural society within these rural heartlands. They live and thrive off each other and everyone living within these communities, almost exclusively, need one or either or both to survive. Both are now under systemic threat

"We can only speak for our own community in Ballinaglera, but we believe we represent the sizable majority of the clubs in the county. If we can’t get young people to live in these rural heartlands then how are we able to sustain our teams.

"There seems to be an acceptance amongst everyone, including our local representatives and the hierarchy of the GAA, that Rural Ireland is finished, prepare for amalgamations, move into your towns and cities and leave the countryside for the sightseers, the Sitka and the few stray sheep.

"That may be a slight exaggeration but its pointing that way and if we don’t do something or stand-up now to the ‘carrickcentric’ type policies of the lawmakers within this county and similar counties along the Western seaboard then rural communities as we know them are finished.

"It’s a well-worn lament… the demise of the post office the closure of rural pub, the churches and national schools under threat, but it’s a very real and frightening reality for all of us who live in and love these areas.

"A cursory glance through the planning history on Leitrim County Council website shows planning permissions have fallen through the floor in Ballinaglera in the last 15 years. In 2005 alone, 15 new home were granted planning permission on green field sites with a postal address in Ballinaglera. In the 15 years since, a total of only 8 houses have been granted planning permission on green field sites. Four of these have been in the village itself were a sewerage main has been provided.

"In the same time 3 houses have been refused permission and 8 -10 applications by young couples/ families have not even got to the planning stage as their sites failed the dreaded percolation test. People no longer even bother to do the test as they know they will fail it because 95 % of the soil types in the parish are not suitable."

"This test and the planning policy associated with it have come to dominate all planning applications within the rural parts of the County and have resulted in young people having to move away altogether or at best into the local town. This in itself has also recently proved difficult because of the limited housing stock available in towns like Drumshanbo, Manorhamilton, Carrick and others.

"The practice of footballers travelling home long distances to train and play for the local GAA club are well known. But increasingly the current generation of young farmers also have to travel from the local town to farm the lands on which they were born and reared, but unfortunately are no longer allowed live on.

"This is a national disgrace and the fact that it has been allowed go on unabated for the last 15 years is nothing short of a scandal. Something will have to be done about it. We need to get the debate going. We need to shout stop or we will be left with rural wastelands.

"We want a response from our law makers and local representatives on this matter, not some piecemeal response, but a real solution, we want something enshrined in the next County Development plan, something of substance backed by the EPA and the Dept of the Environment & local Government who are the real power brokers in this debacle.

"As far as we see it is blatant discrimination, that a national planning policy is allowed be so skewed against one particular county. The existing planning laws affect no other county like they do Leitrim.

"We can’t change where we are from or the type of land we inherited. Are we not disadvantaged enough. If Patrick Kavanagh had been born in Leitrim, perhaps he would have penned a masterpiece entitled 'The Sticky Gley Soils of Leitrim’. He seemed to revel in hardship that man, he’d have loved it here.

"Can someone also enlighten us as to what happened the much trumpeted pilot scheme for sewage treatment plants in one off houses, which was first mooted 10 years ago. This was supposed to offer us a ‘Leitrim’ solution. At the time the local airwaves and the Observer were full of fury, fire and brimstone about the new laws. It is high time we lit the fuse again or we will be gone past the point of rescue.

"Minister Heather Humphries launched another initiative last week about regenerating our Rural Towns. Even if this policy succeeds where so many others have failed it will not address the issue that most concerns us. Not everyone wants to live in a town...!

"We want a fair distribution of Public Services that stretches beyond the Towns and reaches into the rural parishes. The only way this can be achieved is to first offer us a fair and just planning process that gives these areas a real chance. Otherwise historic GAA clubs like Drumreilly, Aughawillan, Fenagh, Drumkeerin, Eslin, Cloone, Glenfarne, Aughnasheelin, Aughavas and Kiltubrid as well as our own Club will be assigned to the annals of GAA History.

"The GAA is in a unique position to represent our views, We know that they are a politically neutral organisation but
surely they can’t stand idly by and oversee the decimation of half of our clubs.

"One abiding image, printed in the media, of the early days of the pandemic showed silage been baled on the grounds of one prominent GAA pitch in the County last July. Unless we do something and do something now, we are afraid this will become a common sight or perhaps we could use the pitches to graze the few stray sheep," the letter concludes.

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