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  • Writer's picturePippa Hackett

Support for local businesses 'the beating heart of rural Ireland' raised in Seanad

I spoke in the Seanad this week, about how I spent most of my time over the past month or so, travelling around Laois and Offaly, meeting people from all walks of life. This is a central part of our democracy, and helps to inform us, as public representatives, on the issues close to the lives of our constituents.

The hardship caused by the continued cost of living crisis is clear, and this Government is determined to bring forward measures in Budget 2023, to support those most impacted by it.

I visited many local producers and entrepreneurs on my travels, and to hear their stories, and concerns, highlights to me that it is now more important than ever, to support our local businesses. Local businesses are the beating heart of rural Ireland, and I want to speak about some of the wonderful examples in Laois and Offaly.

Including Ferbane Food Campus. Ferbane is a community that suffered hundreds of job losses linked to Bord na Mona restructuring in the 1990s, yet this food campus has enabled and supported 30 local food businesses, and trained over 300 people, over the past 20 years.

One such business is Ballyshiel Artisan Foods, producers of delicious, chocolate based products, made from locally supplied milk, and I had a really interesting chat with Tommy and Karina about the potential to expand into food tourism, which will combine their the food they produce with the local beautiful bogland landscape. What a unique tourism offering.

I welcome the objective of Ferbane Food Campus of collaborating with local farmers for short supply chains. This is something my Department and Food Vision 2030 supports, and I look forward to the day when I will enjoy a food trail, where we discuss the terroir of West Offaly, with hints of chocolate and cranberry on the palette.

Despite the current crisis in the cost of living, we are lucky to see some new businesses open, and an example of this is Audrey Kingston who has recently opened a new pharmacy in the centre of Mountrath. Best wishes to you Audrey.

Another is Ballintubbert House and Gardens near Stradbally, a beacon for the eco-tourism sector in the Midlands, and which earlier this year achieved full organic status for their gardens. I was lucky to see them this week, in late summer splendour, and so can you, as they are open to the public on Saturday next, 18th September – a true feast for the senses.

There are other excellent examples of ecotourism – for example, in Co Offaly, you can stay at Mount Briscoe near Daingean. Mount Briscoe Farm has been in the same family for seven generations, it’s organic for over 20 years, and it offers some traditional, and some less traditional, sustainable accommodation options. It also produces some wonderful food, which will be served, al fresco, to some lucky customers on the evening of Tuesday September 20th.

And back to Laois for the heat-pump, and soon-to-be solar powered outdoor swimming pool in the gorgeous village of Ballinakill - another such ecotourism attraction. The village is hosting the Pride of Place judges on Friday – so the very best of luck to them.

So from Ballinakill to Ballyshiel, Ballintubbert to Mount Briscoe, and so many more I could mention – these are the hidden gems in the hidden heartlands of Ireland, and with their wonderful entrepreneurial spirit, together with the support from relevant state agencies, and government support for greenways and blueways, they won’t remain hidden for long.


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