Social Justice Ireland is urging the government to build regional recovery into Budget 2022.

The future of rural Ireland “is under threat” as it tries to deal with the consequences of Brexit, Covid-19, and our climate crisis, the think tank has said. 

How Ireland ensures rural areas and regions are supported to meet these challenges and how we transition to a more sustainable society “will determine what kind of rural communities we will have in Ireland 20 years from now”.

Dr. Seán Healy, CEO of Social Justice Ireland, said:

“Building a regional recovery must be a priority in Budget 2022. The social and economic impact of the pandemic on the regions will be lasting. 

“Therefore, appropriate and sufficient investment is vital to a balanced and fair post-Covid recovery where no one is left behind”.

Launching Social Justice Ireland’s briefing ‘Regional Recovery and Budget 2022’, Dr. Healy noted that “Budget 2022 is an opportunity for government to deliver on the ambition of Our Rural Future and make available the necessary resources to ensure the strategy is a success”.

Ambition and investment required in Budget 2022

Making the case for additional investment in the regions in Budget 2022, Michelle Murphy, research and policy analyst with Social Justice Ireland said that “towns and villages across the regions face many challenges, some of which pre-date the pandemic”. 

“These include an older population in comparison with urban areas, higher rates of part-time employment, lower median incomes, and greater distance from everyday services. 

“In addition, new challenges have emerged, the impact of Covid-19, the ongoing fallout from Brexit, and the impact of digitisation on employment in areas that were already struggling. 

“Remote working presents an opportunity to reinvigorate rural communities, but in order for government strategies [like] ‘Our Rural Future’ and ‘Making Remote Work’ to be successful, the supporting infrastructure must be put in place.”

Some of Social Justice Ireland’s key proposals:

  • An additional €50 million to the Rural Transport Programme;
  • A €200 million investment to rollout the network of 400 remote working hubs;
  • Allocate €100 million to regional development and transition in Budget 2022;
  • Align regional investment with a Just Transition Strategy;
  • An increased investment of €30 million in the community and voluntary sector;
  • An additional €40 million investment in further education and training to develop and expand apprenticeships and traineeships;
  • Invest €2 million to establish a network of community energy advisors to engage with and inform people and households in energy poverty and hard-to-reach energy users as a national retrofitting programme is rolled out;
  • Invest €10 million in Budget 2022 to begin the rollout of the Circular Economy Strategy concentrating on areas such as sustainable agriculture;
  • Budget 2022 should invest €10 million in the National Parks and Wildlife Service and in the National Biodiversity Data Centre.