Bobby Kerr: The Man with the Van needs to be supported to protect rural Ireland

There are two and maybe three tiers to the recovery, and 94% of voters agree that we need to help those being left behind...

Bobby Kerr: The Man with the Van needs to be supported to protect rural Ireland

Down to Business Presenter Bobby Kerr

I was intrigued by the findings of a Newstalk Red C poll that clearly found that 75% of those polled strongly agreed that businesses who want to either set up in rural Ireland or to create jobs in rural Ireland need to be incentivised to do so. Indeed, 94% of the voters polled supported new measures.

I was listening to Newstalk Breakfast last week from the Battle Bus in Enniscorthy (where was Ivan I asked myself) - Kieran Cuddihy discussed a report on the ground whereby he went to a men’s shed group who told him of the desolation around employment in the town - about how so many factories had closed and were not replaced by new employers, and how Wexford had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and the highest suicide statistics too.

It's frightening stuff, and it got me thinking about employment in rural Ireland.

Like it or not, the foreign direct investment that the IDA bring in will want to locate in an area with good infrastructure and where they can get the skilled employees that they desire for their particular business.

Unfortunately, this means that a lot of the high skills and high-tech FDI investments are much more likely to want to locate in areas with high populations.

On the ground

But let’s talk about the man with the van. Say a Plummer who employs 4 people in rural Ireland.

He is self-employed just like 327,500 others according to the latest CSO figures. That is 17% of total employment in the country.

Not only do we not incentivise him – we penalise him.

He pays more tax and PRSI than a PAYE worker and if his business fails he is not entitled to claim social welfare. This is crazy. The value of those 4 jobs keep people employed locally and keeps the most of the money they earn in the local economy.

There is a lot of talk about the economy flying and things booming but as I see it there is definitely two economies - and possibly three.

You have Dublin Cork and their hinterlands, you have towns and villages along the Wild Atlantic Way who have definitely improved with the very strong tourist numbers, and then you have towns and villages in middle Ireland that are really struggling.

This is where we have to come up with some simple tangible ideas to encourage indigenous business and to promote local employment and to keep the money in the local economy.

So let’s not be fooled by the rhetoric that says everything is flying and let’s focus on a real set of incentives for the self-employed outside of The Pale.

If we don’t act soon to prevent the rot and the slide happening God knows what sort of a society we will be left with in middle Ireland in 10 years’ time.