As the coronavirus pandemic intensifies and calls for social distancing and isolation ramp up, rural communities are being hit hardest.
After years of communities in south Armagh making attempts to tackle the problem of rural isolation, the coin has been flipped and it just that which is now being promoted by authorities in a bid to tackle the Covid-19 spread.
It has resulted in many local groups, which those who are most vulnerable in our society rely on, closing their doors.
Speaking to Armagh I on the issue, SDLP councillor for Slieve Gullion, Pete Byrne described it as a “Catch 22” situation between looking out for those who are isolated – as they are usually those most at risk – and staying away altogether.
“I have been in the council for the last four years and we have been trying, through all strategies, to tackle isolation but now we are trying to promote it,” he said, aware of the irony.
“So it is that switch of mind which is quite tricky to get your head around and I suppose we are all in the same boat, but rural areas are more compounded because urban areas don’t have as many issues with isolation.”
The closure of community centres, youth clubs and men’s clubs, which have provided a break from rural isolation, will have a massive impact on the most vulnerable.
Councillor Byrne added: “You have the community centre closed, which had a lot of senior citizens in and around Crossmaglen, going to.
“It is probably one of the busiest council controlled facilities for activities; it is closed down and the library has also closed its doors.
“It’s a huge disruption for the people here, but we already suffered with social isolation and rural isolation in the Slieve Gullion area and it’s only going to continue.
“Simple wee things that people just don’t understand; the Crossmaglen market, the open market, it attracts a lot of older people from around Cullyhanna and Culloville into Crossmaglen, it has been closed.
“Usually us, as councillors, we would be trying to plug the gap of rural isolation through programmes in the community, we don’t even have that available to us because everything is nearly in shutdown mode.
“So it is really about supporting people across the community as best we can but that will solely come from community groups and volunteers.
“For example, you have the Rainbow Club which operates out of the community centre in Crossmaglen with a dance class for those with disabilities; it those activities that bring people together.
“It’s these people we need to look out for but then again, these are the type of people who are in the vulnerable category, along with older people, so you want to look after the isolated but need to leave them isolated – it’s a Catch 22 situation we have to carefully manage.
“You want to look after those people, but you are also aware that contact with those people is also going to put them in jeopardy.”
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