Government’s Rural Action Plan is ‘short on specifics’

The Rural Action Plan launched by the Government yesterday is short of specifics, Independent TD, Michael Fitzmaurice, has said.

For instance, no figure has been put on what the size of the grants will be for the renovation of houses in rural areas mentioned in the plan, he said.

“On the question of transport and infrastructure there is no specific mention of the plans to upgrade the N4 and N5 roads which are an ongoing concern in this region.

“Very few of the commitments in this 70-page plan are costed.”

We have seen a multiplicity of these plans being unveiled over the years and they have never been followed through and the people of rural Ireland have been left high and dry as these plans gather dust.

“It is time that we had real action on the re- development of rural Ireland and not a constant re-hashing of plans that have been announced before several times.”

Fitzmaurice said that that the launch of the Realising Our Rural Potential Plan is welcome and any measures that will aid the development of rural Ireland are certainly most welcome but many of the commitments that are in the plan have been announced before and some of the measures have been announced a number of times.

“There are some glaring omissions too and the figure of €60m extra to be spent on the plan over three years seems a very small figure.”

There are some aspects of the plan which I welcome but a lot of what is included in today plans have been announced in the past.

“Commitments with regard to Leader, CAP, Job Schemes, Broadband, Mobile Phone Coverage, Flooding, Rates Relief and many others too have been made in the past and were included in the negotiations in the programme for Government of which I was a part of.”

‘Action plan needs to be full resourced with a dedicated budget’

Also reacting to the report was Macra na Feirme President, Sean Finan, who said that this action plan needs to be full resourced with a dedicated budget to ensure that the full potential of rural Ireland can be realised.

He said that Ireland has had rural plans developed before like the Commission for Economic Development in Rural Areas Report (CEDRA) which have achieved little.

Rural Ireland in spite of negative commentary by some is very much alive with agricultural activity at its core.

“Sustainable rural development is necessary to ensure young people who want to live and work in rural areas can do so.

“After false dawns in the past, we need this plan to deliver for our young people so they can live, work and contribute to rural Ireland,” Finan said.

‘Recent upturn in the economy has not been felt in rural Ireland’

Commenting on the Rural Action Plan, IFA President Joe Healy said that it must be resourced with sufficient funding that can arrest the decline of rural areas, particularly those areas that are peripheral.

“The recent upturn in the economy has not been felt in rural Ireland. IFA believes that with a well-funded plan, significant inroads can be made.

“It’s an important step towards delivering on the commitment to rural-proof Government policy and revitalise rural Ireland.”

Joe Healy said it was important that the Government report recognised the threat posed by Brexit, which has serious ramifications for the farming and food sectors.

“This report accepts many of the proposals set out in IFA’s rural affairs strategy document A Policy Charter for Rural Ireland. However, action is now required and I am calling on Government to set out specific timelines for the delivery of each one of the measures proposed and the publication of a progress report in 90 days.”

Healy said that agriculture is the backbone of the rural economy and the jobs that flow from a vibrant farming sector, both directly and indirectly, cannot be underestimated in the Government’s rural plan.

“The food and drinks industry as well as the wider agri-industry adds value to what farmers produce.”

The IFA President said rural areas must be made more attractive to live and invest in.

“The report contains some significant proposals, particularly around areas such as rural banking and vacant properties, which have the scope to really revitalise rural Ireland.

“Many areas need a good infrastructure including the provision of a fast broadband service. This will help the strong entrepreneurial spirit that exists in rural Ireland. The roll out of the national broadband network to all areas must be a priority.”