Rural action plan will create 135,000 jobs by 2020, says Taoiseach

‘There is something in this for everybody,’ promises Enda Kenny of new strategy

A plan to create 135,000 jobs by 2020, while rejuvenating 600 rural towns and villages, has been launched by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Ballymahon, Co Longford.

“What is in this plan really is an opportunity for local authorities, communities and individuals to work together in the best interest of promoting the full potential of rural Ireland,” Mr Kenny said.

He pledged to bring Garda numbers up to 15,000 and promised “there is something in this for everybody”.

The Government says the action plan is the first whole-of-government strategy aimed at delivering change for people living and working in rural Ireland. It is based on five main pillars: supporting sustainable communities; supporting enterprise and employment; maximising rural tourism and recreation; fostering culture and creativity; and improving rural infrastructure and connectivity.



Minister for Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys will oversee the plan’s implementation.

“I believe passionately in the potential of rural communities. I see the resilience, the resourcefulness, the energy, the commitment of my own rural community,” she said.“I want to use this action plan for rural Ireland to change the narrative around rural Ireland.

“Rural Ireland does not need to be saved or rescued. Rural Ireland can and does make a huge contribution to our economy through innovative industries, driving community activism, new approaches towards tourism, and also through its commitment to creativity and culture.”

She said the plan was not about telling local communities what to do, but was rather about empowering rural communities and enabling them to focus on their individual strengths.

She announced a pilot scheme aimed at attracting older or younger people to buy vacant properties in rural towns, with a grant to help them to renovate houses.

“There are loads of ideas out there on how you can adapt centre-of-town houses to modern-day living,” Ms Humphreys said.

Referring to threats to rural bus services, she said the National Transport Authority had committed itself to leaving no area without a bus service.

In relation to rural primary schools, she said: “If there are plans to close a school, the consent of the parents must be given before that school can close.”

High-speed broadband

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten said that while 1.4 million Irish users can access high-speed broadband, there is a “two-speed digital Ireland. Another 1.8 million people are left out and left behind. That is a story of disadvantage and of isolation we are determined to end.”

The national broadband plan would deliver a high-speed broadband network to more than 750,000 premises, covering 100,000 kilometres of road network and 96 per cent of the land area of Ireland.

A process was under way to select a winning bidder or bidders for the national broadband plan.

“It will be a predominantly fibre-to-the-home network for rural Ireland. This means the network will be future-proofed for a generation,” he said.

According to Mr Naughten, “it will give every parish the means to be the hub of a living community. I am here today not to announce a plan; I am here to tell you that the plan in hand is well under way.”

He announced a pilot scheme targeting rural dwellers who are dependent on solid fuels as their primary source of heat.

“I accept that the use of peat and turf can at times be a contentious subject,” he said. “But, through this pilot, I am confident it will provide tangible evidence that managing our peat lands will lead to warmer homes, to reduced bills, to job creation and to a sustainable future for rural Ireland.”

Speaking after the launch, Irish Rural Link chief executive Seamus Boland welcomed the plan and said rural Ireland had been left behind in the recession.

“Each local authority needs to be doing the same things in terms of rates, in terms of planning,” he said. “From an Irish Rural Link perspective, we will be monitoring this ourselves. If it isn’t up to scratch, we will be the first to be heard saying so.”