EU must play its part in ‘rural revival’

A local councillor in Leitrim has made a plea to the European Union (EU) to help deliver real policies and finance for rural regions.

Leitrim councillor Enda Stenson was speaking during a debate in the European Committee of the Regions which was also attended by the chair of the European parliament’s committee on agriculture and rural development Norbert Lins and also President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

The independent councillor participated in the debate live from the ‘Hive’ in Carrick on Shannon, Co. Leitrim.

He highlighted that rural towns and villages have been “decimated” by the closure of shops, bars, restaurants and small business adding that this has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis.

Stenson also raised concerns, which are heightened in Ireland, about the potential for a no-deal Brexit.

Rural revival

Stenson said: “The shrinking populations in rural areas are becoming an increasingly worrying trend.

“We need to see how we can have a fairer distribution of employment opportunities in rural areas but this needs to go hand in hand with provision of services, such as GP services, banking and other essential services to make life easier in our fantastic rural areas.”

The independent councillor addressed the issue of rural broadband and stated that rural areas have “been forgotten in a digital revolution and this trend needs to be reversed”.

Transport links and the provision of ‘local link’ services is crucial.

Councillor Stenson called for “rural proofing” across all EU policy and received strong support from the EU’s agriculture committee chair Norbert Lins, who said that the implementation of this principle needs to be ensured in the next financing period.

Stenson concluded the debate by saying that rural areas have “huge potential for balanced regional development”.

“By rebalancing how we treat rural areas we can achieve a real change which will make our rural areas a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family,” he concluded.

The Committee of the Regions

The councillor’s opinion will go for final approval of the 329 elected members of the European Committee of the Regions in December.

The committee is the EU’s assembly of regional and local representatives from all 28 member states, with nine Irish members. 

Created in 1994 following the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, its mission is to involve regional and local authorities in the EU’s decision-making process and to inform them about EU policies.

The European Parliament, the council and the European Commission consult the committee in policy areas affecting regions and cities.