Bishops back plan to aid West
TWO BISHOPS this week -Iadded their voices to the growing chorus of support for a "grass-roots" co-operative movement that promises to revolutionise agricultural policy in the West of Ireland. They are Bishop Fergus of Aehonry and Bishop O'Boyle of Killala, both of whose dioceses have been drained by emigration since the beginning of the century and who are facing very real and urgent pastoral problems posed by the flight froni the land.
They were speaking at a meeting held to organise a special "Defence of the West Committee" for Co. Mayo, and the purpose of the committee is, in Bishop Fergus's words, "to unite the people of the West in a determined co-operative effete Id better their conditions of life and to ensure their own survival."
Theirs is a far from easy task. The West of Ireland is plagued by many ills, of which emigration is only one.
The morale or its farmers has been sapped by the sheer difficulty of earning a living from the unworkable and frequently ungrateful land. by the unconcern of political parties in the fallow years between elections, and by the corrosive influence of a dole that is large enough to encourage apathy hut too small to give any dignity to the coo ntryman's ex istence.
During the winter months, in particular, the dole is the pale, watery life-blood of whole communities along the western seaboard: in the summer it is supplemented (sometimes illegally) by casual harvest work, roadsmaking or fishing.
Sense of belonging THE MAN BEHIND the movement is Fr. James MeDyer, C.C., Glencolumcille, Co. Donegal, whose basic idea involves the establishment of a network of rural co-operatives to give the small farmers of the Westthose v, hose holdings average 30 acres apiece—not only a livelihood IAA a sense of belonging, a sense of the unity of the community.
His 200-acre vegetable-producing co-operative at Cilencolumcille hae already slashed the emigration rate in several parishes. It is set fair to become a blueprint for similar schemes in other parts of the country.
Regarded at first as little better than a crank, Fr. McDyer has won increasing Government recognition —and a substantial Government grant—for his efforts. And before official Government recognition was forthcoming, it was a semiState organisation (the Irish Sugar Company) ehich gave the movement its major impetus by establishing a badly-needed vegetableprocessing plant in the area.
At the same time, it is clear that not everything is going as smoothly as the Defence of the West Committee and its supporters could
wish. Concern is being expressed in some quarters at the attitude of the new Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Charles Haughey, towards the scheme.
Mr. Haughey, who has already made two visits to the West to meet the movement's sponsors and evaluate its aims, has not yet conceded that any new emphasis is needed in Clovernment policy.
The farmers of the West, too, are hampered by the fact that poeer in the National Farmers' Association and, consequently, policy—is largely vested in the hands of the prosperous farmers from the midlands whose outlook and whose needs are very different t!1 tilt theirs.
Till') LACK. therefore, an organisation which can speak for them with authority and consistency, and this is one of the defects that the committee is setting out to remedy. The movement, which has an estimated 700 voluntary members in Co. Mayo alone, is now expected to initiate a full-scale recruiting drive, both formally and informally,' along the west coast.
What started as the brainchild of one dedicated priest has, however, drawn an unexpected strength from the closely-knit sociological pattern or the countryside, and has mushroomed into a lull-scale agrarian programme %%hose full effect will not he measurable for quite some time to come.
It has an unusually broad spec twin or support, ranging from prelates and priests at one end, through the entire range of lay opinion to people like Pestdar O'Donnell, the Donegal-born agrarian rebel who has so often, in the past, found himself at odds with the Church.
It has also harnessed, to an unhoped-for extent. the energies and the enthusiasm of nationallyminded young people in every county.
The West is a special problem: even the politicians recognise that. There are grants and inducements for firms who want to establish factories west of the Shannon; the bounty on Irish-speaking children is going up from £5 to £10 a head; and money-losing organisations like Ciaeltarra Eireann help to subsidise individual weavers and craftsmen.
it is clear. hossever. that the main plank in any policy to save the West must be laid by the people of the West themselves. and that this is what they are trying to do41 llit idealism to work.