Government called on to facilitate ‘population return’ to rural Ireland

The government is being called on to facilitate a “population return” to rural Ireland by reviewing laws around planning permission for homes.

Fianna Fáil senator Robbie Gallagher called for obstacles for home planning permission to be removed for people looking to build homes in rural areas.

“Rural Ireland needs people if it is going to have a future. Rural Ireland has the potential now, due to changes in remote working brought about by the pandemic, to be rejuvenated with people arriving,” he argued.

But where are these people going to find a home to live in or a site to build their house on?

“The current position seems to be that the funding required for necessary infrastructural development to allow building to take place – whether sewerage, water or roads – is directed, understandably so in one context, to large cities and towns,” Gallagher noted.

The senator added: “Throughout the country, it seems to be targeted in one or two major towns within a county at the expense of smaller towns and villages.”

According to Gallagher, this type of funding is impacting people’s choices about where to live.

Trying to obtain planning permission to live in rural Ireland, even for those families born and bred there, is becoming increasingly difficult.

He rose a possible solution in the form of the concept of ‘local needs only’ planning. However, he noted that a move to adopt this concept by the government of the Belgian region of Flanders in 2009 was overturned by the European Court of Justice as the idea of ‘locals only’ was apparently discriminatory.

Notwithstanding this, senator Gallagher said: “It is past time that guidance was given to local authorities on this issue so they can adopt their development plans to take into consideration this potential new vista.

“[This would be] a win-win for the smaller towns and villages of rural Ireland and promises a regeneration for areas where local services, schools and GAA clubs could be saved or rejuvenated,” he concluded.