There is an explicit need for ministerial responsibility on co-ordinating agencies dealing with rural development in Ireland.

According to the Report of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA), which was launched today by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, all indications are that it was this lack of explicit responsibility in previous policy frameworks that resulted in a less than effective approach to the economic development of rural areas to date.

The report goes on to say that the current local government reform process, which is currently underway, offers a unique opportunity to ensure that rural Ireland has a distinct voice at regional, local and community level. The report was jointly commissioned in September 2012 by Minister Phil Hogan, and Minister Simon Coveney, in recognition that a number of commitments relating to economic development contained in the Programme for Government, in particular, commitments to encourage job creation and sustainable enterprise development, are reliant on the ability of all parts of Ireland to contribute to economic growth going forward. Chaired by Pat Spillane and consisting of a range of experts in both rural and economic development the Commission have now produced this very interesting and informative report that addresses not only the frameworks required at national level to support rural economic development but also the human and resource potential in rural Ireland.

The report contains 34 recommendations and is the culmination of a large body of work throughout 2013.

Farm Assist

Meanwhile, figures from the Department of Social Protection show that counties along the western seaboard make up the majority of recipients of Farm Assist.

In total, there are currently 9,940 farmers in receipt of farm assist payments. Farm Assist, which is a means-tested income support scheme for farmers, accounted for €99.5 million of Government spending last year, according to figures released recently by Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton. Western counties make up the majority of the recipients with some 6,042 recipients in counties on the western seaboard representing 60% of the total number of claimants.

Donegal, Galway and Mayo alone account for almost a third of the recipients in the country. The Farm Assist scheme is based on jobseeker’s allowance. It was introduced in 1999 and Farm Assist recipients retain all the advantages of the jobseeker’s allowance scheme such as retention of secondary benefits and access to activation programmes. Teagasc last week released a report highlighting the plight of rural towns. Some of the report’s findings run contrary to department figures on Farm Assist with Teagasc finding that many towns in the west of Ireland are thriving. It found that Offaly and Carlow are have the economically weakest towns in the country. While the Midlands, South-East and West have the highest concentration of the weakest towns, the South West and West have the highest concentration of the strongest towns.

Although there are a higher proportion of farmers in western counties in receipt of Farm Assist, these same counties do feature the highest amount of farmers with the lowest Single Farm Payment (see table below). [table id=29 /]

The CEDRA report is available on and the websites of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine