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AMY SCOTT: Big real estate developers and the newly rich are eying some of Ireland’s most beautiful rural towns. Local authorities, on the other hand, would like them to take their mansion-building money elsewhere.
Some towns have created strict tests for who’s allowed to build, like where you were born, or whether you speak Gaelic. From the west coast of Ireland, Stephen Beard catches up with the locals — and their laws.
SEOSAMH O’CUAIG:: Well, we’re here in Connemara, West County Galway. Out there you have Galway Bay. Further west there you can see the Arran Islands …
STEPHEN BEARD: Seosamh O’Cuaig, a local councillor and journalist, shows off the Connemara countryside where he lives and works:
O’CUAIG:: One of the most beautiful places in Ireland, certainly; in Europe, probably; in the world even.
But, he says, the beauty has attracted real estate developers and city dwellers looking to build. Sprawling luxury villas along the coast are threatening to squeeze out the locals.
O’CUAIG:: Well, when you have a lot of money sloshing around, people with money move in and buy houses, they push up the prices. After a while you will notice that local people cannot compete at all.
Here in Galway County Hall they’ve adopted a locals-only planning rule. In certain rural areas people have to prove a strong local connection before they get a building permit. In some cases, they’ve got to speak Gaelic, too.
Paid O’Neachtain has the job of testing the Gaelic language skills of would be housebuilders: They have to be fluent. At first, not everyone took the test seriously.
PAID O’NEACHTAIN:: Some estate agents felt it was a case of “Speak to your local parish priest and he’ll send you in with a few words and you’ll be fine.
In fact, half the applicants fail the test. There are locals-only laws cropping up all over Ireland. But a backlash is underway. This man, who prefers to remain anonymous for fear of upsetting the local planners, says he was denied a rural building permit — in spite of strong family connections to the area.
ANONYMOUS:: In the local cemetery I have my parents, my mother’s parents, my grandfather’s parents. I have four uncles, three aunts, two cousins all buried in the local cemetery. I spent my childhood in a local farm which was my mother’s homeplace.
BEARD:: But you’re not sufficiently local for the planning authorities?
ANONYMOUS:: No one is ever sufficiently local for them.
The Irish Rural Dwellers Assocation is campaigning against the rule. The Association’s head, Jim Connolly, says Ireland is the most thinly populated country in Europe. Rural communities here need new residents and the money they bring.
JIM CONNOLLY:: If you have a sparsely populated rural community which is being denied an influx of new blood and new people, it will become inbred. It cannot survive without people.
At the Gaelic language radio station where he works, Councillor O’Cuaig insists that the locals-only rule is needed to help the Irish language and rural communities survive.
OCUAIG:: This is the fundamental question all over the world: Do you put your complete faith in the market. Or do you say, “Yes to the market with certain restrictions.”
The Irish Supreme Court will soon decide whether the locals-only rule is unconstitutional, infringing every Irish citizen’s right to own property regardless of who they are or where they were born.
In Galway on the west coast of Ireland, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.
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