Rural funding of €10m not a ‘silver bullet’ for problems

Heather Humphreys announces funding that will be shared among 200 towns and villages

Minister for Rural Affairs  Heather Humphreys said funding will be made available to local authorities this year to support the regeneration of up to 200 rural towns and villages. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Minister for Rural Affairs Heather Humphreys said funding will be made available to local authorities this year to support the regeneration of up to 200 rural towns and villages. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Government funding of €10 million to help rejuvenate towns and villages is not a “silver bullet” but will help to address some problems in rural Ireland, Minister for Rural Affairs Heather Humphreys has said.

Ms Humphreys announced on Tuesday that the funding will be made available to local authorities this year to support the regeneration of up to 200 rural towns and villages. Local communities and business interests will be invited to come up with proposals and to make a pitch for funding from next month.

The funding is part of a €30 million investment to support town and village regeneration announced by her predecessor Alan Kelly last September, the Minister admitted.

However, the planned spend of €4 million for 2016 has been increased to €10 million, which is to be spent before the end of the year. Ms Humphreys said she would continue to seek funding for rural development in the context of forthcoming budgets.

Speaking at the launch of the Rural Town and Village Renewal scheme in her own constituency in Clones, Co Monaghan, Ms Humphreys said towns and villages were “the heart of our rural communities”.

The economic downturn had a significant impact on many of these towns and villages and the scheme aimed to breathe life back into them.

“It is incumbent on us to help them achieve a recovery,” she said.

“It is critical that towns and villages become areas where economic activity can flourish, where people can live and work, and where people can meet at a social level,” she said.

The Minister said a particular focus would be placed this year on supporting smaller towns with populations of less than 5,000.

Projects that will be considered for funding may include proposals to increase the attractiveness of the town or village as a local commercial and social centre, and to increase its sustainability as a place in which to live and work.

Enhancing cultural and heritage assets to promote tourism, and projects to tackle minor physical infrastructural deficits may also be considered for funding.

‘Houdini act’

Michael Fitzmaurice, Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway, said the €10 million looked like a lot of money but when it was divided out, eight towns in each county would get about €43,000-€44,000.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, he said the way such funding had been handed out was part of a “Houdini act” by governments over the years and that the scheme would leave smaller towns behind.

“It will make little or no difference, that’s the reality.”

Responding, Ms Humphreys she was not saying the scheme would be “a silver bullet for all the problems in rural Ireland”. But other issues would be dealt with in due course, she said.

Ms Humphreys said local authority chief executives were keen to work with the department on the scheme. The maximum any town could receive was €100,000 and the local authority could also contribute towards the projects, she added.