An Athlone meeting of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (Cedra ) was pulled recently for a later date because there wasn’t enough interest - it was revealed at the March meeting of Westmeath County Council.
The organisation is tasked with reporting on the opportunities and challenges facing the rural economy.
Stakeholder meetings, organised by Cedra in conjunction with Teagasc, would involve organisations such as chambers of commerce, LEADER groups, the IFA, and county council planning sections. Such meetings have already taken place in Longford, Portlaoise, and Tullamore and provided “great feedback”.
Cedra has confirmed that if there is interest in a public meeting, one will be scheduled, probably for Athlone next month.
The news comes after councillors expressed their concern that there are no scheduled public meetings in any of the Midlands counties, which Cllr Paddy Hill described as “the heart of rural Ireland”.
At Westmeath County Council’s March meeting earlier this week, he described Cedra as “just another talking shop”, and expressed concern about whether sports pundit Pat Spillane was the right man to chair the commission.
While he was a great footballer, Spillane had no expertise in job creation, Cllr Hill said, and added that what’s needed are entrepreneurs like former billionaire Sean Quinn.
However, Cedra defended itself, saying research is led by Teagasc and others, and that the 16 members of the commission have a background in rural development.
A spokesperson said the members, who are listed on www.ruralireland.ie and include Roscommon farmer Bernard O’Donoghue, all have a background in rural development which will assist in creating a draft report for Government due in October this year.
Cllr Hill was one of many councillors concerned about the lack of public consultation in Westmeath.
Cllr Frankie Keena said that if Environment Minister Phil Hogan is serious about supporting rural Ireland there would be a meeting in every county.
Welcoming the initiative, Cllr Frank McDermott said there is much to be improved and that members of the previous government “had forgotten where they came from”.
“They were too involved in building houses rather than building up our primary industry,” added Cllr John Doran, who said the previous administration had neglected agriculture.
He urged members of the public to get involved, saying that it’s always better to ask the public for their ideas than impose “a dictat from on high”.
There is a questionnaire for the public on the Cedra website, with a closing submission date of April 30.
County manager Danny McLoughlin highlighted his own rural roots, and said rural development is an important issue, supported by the council through tourism initiatives, village enhancement schemes, incubation spaces, and other initiatives.