Opposition parties have shown concern over the government’s newly launched five year rural development policy, and whether the “aspirational commitments” it contains will be delivered or not.

Responding to the publication of ‘Our Rural Future’, Labour spokesperson on rural development Seán Sherlock said that “it must not become a false dawn like the 2017 Action Plan on Rural Development”.

‘Follow through on their pledges’

Deputy Sherlock said:

“That plan had five pillars and 270 actions. In comparison, [the new] document has 150 commitments and focuses in on the fallout from the pandemic.

“What will be crucial to its success is the delivery of high-speed broadband, and access to sustainable transport options.

The government described this as the most ambitious and transformational policy for rural development in decades; but that will be determined by whether they follow through on their pledges.

“Despite much publicity about relocation grants, community ownership and tax changes, there are no new concrete financial commitments in [the] policy document.

“This strategy can’t be another false dawn for rural Ireland. While there is much to welcome in the document, there is little that is specifically new.

“I will be watching this closely and engaging with the minister [for rural development] on how well the aspirational commitments in [the] document are actually delivered.”

‘Learn from failed decentralisation efforts’

Deputy Holly Cairns of the Social Democrats said that many small communities “have struggled due to decades of underinvestment by successive governments and have experienced additional decline due to Covid-19”.

She added that the plan, while ambitious, “will ultimately be judged on how quickly it is implemented”.

“Rural Ireland has been further impacted by the closure of banks and post offices, which were once the commercial heartbeat of towns and villages,” the Cork South-West TD said.

The slow national rollout of high-speed broadband has also put workers, students and businesses at a serious disadvantage when compared to those living in larger urban centres.

“The creation of up to 400 working hubs with fast internet connection will go some way towards bridging this gap – but should not be seen as a substitute for proper investment in rural broadband.

“The success of this latest relocation initiative will be dependent on the government’s actions.

“If we are to successfully encourage people to live, work and do business in rural Ireland, we must invest in the necessary infrastructure and learn from failed decentralisation efforts of the past.”

‘The government should be embarrassed by this document’

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on agriculture Matt Carthy has bluntly said that the government “should be embarrassed by this document”.

He said that the plan “contains no new spending, no new targets and no new ideas”.  

“The government has had a big launch of this policy paper, but there is little vision in it,” the deputy said.

The paper is primarily a repackaging of existing government policy – much of it proposals that have been oft-promised, but rarely delivered.

“The government’s big idea seems to be that people currently working in urban centres will be able to do so in rural areas. That is fine and welcome in itself but does not represent the type of big ambition and vision that is actually required.

“Rural communities want to see the creation of jobs in those communities – not just crumbs from Dublin.  

“Rural communities need investment in infrastructure; new investment – not rehashed promises.

Frankly, the government should be embarrassed by this document.

“This announcement was another missed opportunity by government parties that lack the vision and ambition that our rural communities need and deserve.”