‘Leo commutes 15 minutes to work – he doesn’t understand rural life’

Last night, up to 300 rural dwellers gathered for the first in a series of nationwide public meetings aimed at addressing concerns over draft plans for the National Planning Framework (NPF).

The official plan – which will inform infrastructure and strategic planning investments countrywide over the next 20 years – is expected to be voted on in Leinster House over the coming weeks.

However, a new coalition group of cross-party and independent TDs with a united passion for rural development – including: Michael Fitzmaurice (independent); Eamon O Cuiv (Fianna Fail); Alan Kelly (Labour); and Martin Kenny (Sinn Fein) – last night laid down a marker that they will not support the plan in its current format.

‘Radical rewrite’

Addressing the attendees at the meeting in the Hodson Bay Hotel, Co. Roscommon, each politician voiced grave reservations on the draft plan’s potential to “inhibit growth” in rural areas.

They claim it offers “flawed thinking” on public transport infrastructure, on development and distribution of of foreign direct investment, on town planning and on employment opportunities.

The group highlighted how they believe the west, north-west and midlands are particularly vulnerable under the current vision – being prepared by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

However, they also warned that Dublin will also suffer under the current plan, as the the city’s infrastructure will be unable to cope with projected population growth and urbanisation.

Although the group insisted that it is not opposed to the entire draft plan; Deputy O Cuiv is calling for a “radical rewrite” of the document.

The NPF will be published alongside the Government’s National Development Plan – which is expected to deliver a spend of €115 billion in public infrastructure investment in Ireland over the next decade.

‘Being realistic’

Speaking to RTE ahead of yesterday’s meeting, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the NPF needs to be “realistic”.

“A plan that is not realistic is not of any use to anyone. When I hear people talking about turning every town into a city and every village into town, and railways to everywhere, that would not be viable and would require massive subvention at the expense of our health budget and our education budget.

We do not need that plan, we have had that before. It needs to be realistic; but, it also needs to do exactly what we want it to do, which is re-balance development away from Dublin and building up our other cities.

However, Deputy Fitzmaurice strongly questions the Taoiseach’s vision for bridging the country’s rural/urban divide through re-balanced development.

Speaking to AgriLand, the independent TD said: “Leo does not understand rural Ireland.

“I know that you can’t build a motorway everywhere because there are secondary roads and all of that. But, if Leo lives in Castleknock and he has maybe a 10 or 15 minute wait in heavy traffic when he goes off to work in his Merc in the morning, shouldn’t people in rural areas have the same opportunity to travel short distances to work too?

“People in rural Ireland should have the opportunity of being no more than half an hour from their workplace. Does he not agree that from Mullingar to Longford to Westport to Sligo that people should have proper roads?

Leo has probably never been in a business where he had to take a risk in the lines of working for himself; so he wouldn’t understand the economics that when you set up a business you have to spend a pound to make a pound.

“He definitely doesn’t understand rural Ireland, no more than if you put Michael Fitzmaurice into the middle of Dublin, I’m man enough to admit that. I don’t know the intricate details of Dublin city, no more than he knows about rural Ireland – and he should not pretend to know it,” he said.

Up coming meetings

Meanwhile, deputy O Cuiv said he expects the meetings to gain momentum over the coming weeks.

The next public meeting is due to take place in Limerick over the next 10 days. Meetings will then be organised for Sligo and Donegal.

“We know from past experiences that it is nearly impossible to get people to come before policies are made; because, they cannot see the affect on the ground. Taking that into account, I thought we had a very big turn out.

“There is a lot of work to be done, we’ll have to go through the detail line by line; but, I think it is important that the people of Ireland show their support. We need to rally the people about what is happening.

Planners think they are going to force everyone to live in the style they want – apartment living near their job. But, real people often want to stay or live near their families or where they grow up or play football.

“Too many people have to go too far for their jobs and the reality is we could bring state jobs, resource-based indigenous jobs, creative industry jobs and tourism jobs, to the people. Then the multinationals will follow,” he concluded.