The government has launched a new five-year rural development policy, in which remote working and remote digital connectivity play a significant part.

The new policy – known as ‘Our Rural Future’ – was launched today by Taoiseach Micheál Martin; Tánaiste Leo Varadkar; Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys; and Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan.

According to Minister Humphrey’s department, there is an “unprecedented opportunity” for rural development post Covid-19.

Some of the main aims of the policy include: attracting remote workers to rural communities; revitalising town centres; and broadband roll-out.

The plan is being called “the most ambitious and transformational policy for rural development in decades”.

The policy includes 150 commitments across government.

Ireland is heading into an era of unprecedented change, and with that comes unprecedented opportunity. Over the course of the pandemic, we have discovered new ways of working and we have rediscovered our communities.

“The policy we launch today, Our Rural Future, provides a framework for the development of rural areas over the next five years. The policy is forward-looking and ambitious and addresses both the challenges and the opportunities facing rural areas,” the Taoiseach said following the launch of the policy.

“The commitments outlined today will benefit individuals, families, communities and businesses. It will enhance the wellbeing and quality of life of people living in rural areas,” he argued.

The policy is divided into a number of sections, each dealing with a different set of issues in rural areas, including agriculture.

Sustainability of agriculture and forestry

The plan recognises agriculture as “both a primary economic driver and a critical component of the social fabric which sustains rural communities”.

The policy aims to “maintain [the agriculture sector] as a world-class producer of quality and safe food while improving livelihoods and cherishing our shared natural environment”.

The policy commits the government to “targeting supports to enhance farm lives and livelihoods”.

Optimising digital connectivity

High-speed broadband throughout the country is also targeted, in order to “ensure equality of access to digital services and support the diversification of rural economies and jobs through digital technologies”.

“Our aim is to bridge the gap in urban-rural connectivity and enable rural businesses, particularly small and micro enterprises, to trade online and broaden their customer base,” the policy states.

The government is committing to “investing significantly” in remote working infrastructure, with the aim of allowing people “live in rural communities while following their career ambitions”.

Revitalising towns and villages

According to the policy document, the government will invest in projects which support activity and increased footfall in rural towns and villages; encourage town centre living; and provide the necessary services infrastructure to support town and village regeneration.

Enhancing public services

The policy aims to ensure that people in rural areas have access to “good quality” public services that enable them to continue to live sustainably in rural communities.

The government plans to invest in improvements in public transport services; health care within communities; housing provision; early learning and childcare facilities; and community safety.

Climate neutral society

According to the policy, the government will support a “just transition for rural communities to a sustainable, resilient and climate neutral economy and society”.

The policy “aims to work with rural communities and businesses to help them overcome challenges related to climate change and to maximise opportunities for them”.

“This will be achieved by engaging with and supporting rural communities to include them in emerging opportunities and by providing investment to support a just transition to a climate neutral economy”, the policy document states.

Other areas

Other key sections within the new policy include: supporting employment and careers in rural areas; enhancing participation, leadership and resilience in rural communities; and supporting the sustainability of island and coastal communities.

Stay tuned to Agriland for more coverage of the government’s new rural policy…