Population decline in some rural areas of the south west is accelerating at such a rate that whole districts are in danger of becoming a "deserted wilderness", it has been claimed.
The indigenous population of Sneem in Co Kerry has plummeted to an extent that it is "under serious threat", according to local development agencies. The local national school population has decreased by 60 per cent. In the area, stretching eight miles by eight miles along the Atlantic seaboard, population levels are down to a mere 1,000 people, the lowest for over a century, it is thought. "If this drop continues the population will soon fall below "critical mass levels" whereby there won't be enough people to justify essential services, such as transport, schools and garages etc.," said Mr Tim O'Sullivan, chairperson of the Sneem, Castlecove and Caherdaniel Integrated Residents' Association. The seriousness of the plight of the Sneem area has been recognised at official level in the funding of a regeneration manager by the Department of the Gaeltacht and Rural Affairs. But according to the residents' association, regeneration will not take place until the twin dilemmas of falling agricultural incomes and what they consider over-strict planning laws are dealt with. The most contentious issue locally is the controversial "occupancy clause" in planning stipulations. This clause requires a farmer to ensure a person purchasing a site from his land will live in the new dwelling for a period of five to seven years. "Which is better in this area of declining population: that a farmer fund his child through college by selling a site or that he be forced to sell his farm, which will denude the area even further?" said Mr O'Sullivan. "If these trends continue we will soon be living in a deserted wilderness." © The Irish Times
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