State ‘should tackle rural unemployment’

Report says Minister should assume responsibility for rural economic development

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan. Report says the Minister for Environment should assume responsibility for co-ordinating rural economic development to tackle the higher level of unemployment in areas outside the State’s five main cities Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan. Report says the Minister for Environment should assume responsibility for co-ordinating rural economic development to tackle the higher level of unemployment in areas outside the State’s five main cities Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

The Minister for Environment should assume responsibility for co-ordinating rural economic development to tackle the higher level of unemployment in areas outside the State’s five main cities, according to a new report.

The Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (Cedra) report, published today, also recommends piloting a number of rural economic development zones, with a targeted stimulus programme for rural towns.

It says that State agencies particularly, Enterprise Ireland and IDA, should strengthen their collaboration at regional level and examine the potential to attract “small scale/niche” foreign direct investment to rural areas.

The report, details of which were outlined by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Environment Phil Hogan in Castlebar, Co Mayo this morning, calls for far more “explicit”, “proactive” and integrated approaches to rural economic development by the authorities responsible for current national and European funding mechanisms.

Cedra, chaired by Pat Spillane, was jointly commissioned by Mr Hogan and Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Simon Coveney in September 2012 “in recognition that a number of commitments relating to economic development contained in the Programme for Government...are reliant on the ability of all parts of Ireland to contribute”.

Mr Spillane notes that rural areas have been particularly affected by the economic downturn from 2008, with an increase in unemployment of 192 per cent compared to 114 per cent in urban areas.

”The impact is visible nationwide with closed shops, the steady flow of emigrants and the resulting impact on community, sporting and cultural life,”he says in the introduction to the Cedra study, which contains 34 recommendations and is the culmination of a “large body of work throughout 2013”, including 100 meetings.

The report recommends that the Government reinvigorate its approach to support for rural economic development by preparing a “clear andcommitted rural economic development policy statement”.

It notes that while the 1999 White Paper on Rural Development was “innovative and far sighted”, with “many useful suggestions”, its effectiveness was undermined by the “absence of appropriate support, delivery and coordination mechanisms”.

”Responsibility for delivery was spread across many Government departmentsand agencies with no effective line of strategic planning and coordination, responsibility and oversight,”the Cedra report notes, and it says it believes there is a “critical need” for more co-ordination.

The report comes three days after new research by agriculture and food authority Teagasc shows that one third of working-age households in small and medium-sized towns have nobody employed, and poverty rates in small towns are twice that of cities, at 10 per cent compared to five per cent.

The Teagasc research has identified a negative effect of urban commuter belts on towns, with a stark variation in economic and social conditions between towns closer and further from the five main cities.

The highest concentration of weakest towns was in the midlands, southeast and west, according to the Teagasc findings.

Speaking at the National Museum of Folklife in Castlebar, Co Mayo, today, Mr Kenny said that the Government “has a plan for rural Ireland”, and accused the previous government “and its policies” of leaving rural Ireland ”completely exposed to the strong economic headwind that hit our country”.

”Change for the better is coming,”Mr Kenny said, noting that he was “passionate about rural Ireland”.

The 34 recommendations examine specific areas including tourism, the marine, agriculture,noting that regulatory and administrative frameworks should be “proportionate, agile and customer focused”. www.ruralireland.ie

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