There has been a mixed response to the details of the Action Plan for Rural Development this week, but with opinion weighing significantly heavier on the positive side.
Describing the aims of the plan in Ballymahon on Monday morning, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said it strives to “unlock the economic and social potential of rural Ireland” by increasing opportunities for jobs and access to public services and social networks.
Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys, said the plan aims to empower rural communities to realise their full potential.
“There has been significant progress in recent years. We know the fastest jobs growth has been outside Dublin and investment in the regions is increasing. We now want to build on that progress by revitalising our rural towns and villages, boosting visitor numbers to rural areas, encouraging more regional development and providing better services.”
Minister of State at the OPW, Deputy Sean Canney, said the plan represents an opportunity to present rural Ireland as “modern and dynamic” with a key part to play in the country’s economic fortunes.
“It is essential that we introduce a more balanced and cohesive approach to future development of this country. This cannot be done if there is an over-concentration of resources on the East Coast, to the detriment, as we have seen, of the people living there, with higher living costs in key areas such as housing,” he said.
Independent Deputy for Longford-Westmeath, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, said the plan has the potential to reverse the fortunes of areas that have been ignored for too long.
“This Action Plan is ambitious and shows the partnership Government’s intent on addressing many of the negative issues that have affected rural Ireland. The plan will see new life being injected into rural areas, many of which have been left neglected for decades, and I have no doubt but that it will attract people away from the cities and big towns and back into rural communities, which are the heartbeat of Ireland,” Deputy Moran said.
“I am particularly happy to see up to €80m being made available every year up to 2019 for flood relief measures and this will increase to €100m a year by 2021, and the €150m planned investment in regional property programmes by the IDA to support and attract foreign direct investment is also very welcome.”
Fianna Fáil Deputy for Roscommon-Galway, Eugene Murphy, said while he broadly welcomes any initiative which aims to safeguard and improve services and facilities for people living in rural Ireland, he fears that the funding involved may be spread too thinly: “While there are undoubtedly some great positives in the plan I am fearful that the €60 million which has been allocated will be spread very thinly, leaving under €2 million per county.
“The Government needs to bring forward a tangible plan with ring-fenced funding and I sincerely hope that this is simply not a rehashing of existing schemes and programmes which were previously announced.”