Rural development plan: Success depends on job creation

The sudden flooding caused no loss of life thanks to the efforts of local communities, but swift action will be required to rebuild the shattered infrastructure in a remote area

 

Revitalising rural Ireland is one of the stated key objectives of the Government. It has a detailed action plan to achieve that objective over the next three years, but delivering on the promises will be a real challenge. Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring has had the honesty to admit this week that there is a long way to go to deliver on the commitments outlined in Action Plan for Rural Development at the start of the year.

He is adamant that significant elements of the plan are being implemented and that 195 of 202 actions due for delivery in the first half of the year are on schedule. One of the key promises was to accelerate the roll-out of high-speed broadband to ensure that all homes and businesses in rural Ireland are connected to broadband as early as possible but that objective seems to be as far away as ever. Still, the public commitment by the Government and various State agencies to a range of actions designed to support the economic and social development of rural Ireland is certainly a good thing and it provides a benchmark against which progress can be measured.

Some of the actions already under way include the outdoor recreation scheme, which is providing €11.4 million to 219 projects to enhance outdoor recreational infrastructure in rural areas and the Clár programme, which is providing €7 million for 231 projects to support disadvantaged rural communities. The plan will ultimately be judged on whether it delivers on the big promise to support the creation of 135,000 new jobs in rural Ireland by 2020. It will take more than an improvement in recreational infrastructure to achieve that objective.

The job creation plan depends on a series of initiatives to assist indigenous businesses, including the investment of €50 million for collaborative approaches to job creation in the regions with an increase in foreign direct investment in regional areas of up to 40 per cent. One of the commitments is to increase capital funding for flood-risk schemes to €80 million per annum by 2019 and increasing to €100 million per annum by 2021. The importance of that commitment has been highlighted by the devastating impact of the floods in the northwest of the country, which have destroyed roads, bridges and buildings.

The episode has been described as “a once in a century event” but the impact on people’s lives is in the here and now and needs to be addressed immediately. The decision of the Minister with responsibility for flood relief, Kevin “Boxer” Moran, to go to Donegal as quickly as possible to assess the damage caused by the thunderstorms has to be commended. The sudden flooding caused no loss of life thanks to the efforts of local communities, but swift action will be required to rebuild the shattered infrastructure in a remote area.

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