Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus has called for the introduction of a rural resettlement scheme to encourage families to relocate to rural areas.

The Midlands North West MEP argues that the growth in remote working provides an opportunity to attract younger families to rural Ireland and revive ageing communities.

Rural communities have lost amenities

“Preparing for Ireland’s changing demographics is critical to the future sustainability of rural communities,” the MEP said.

“Census data tells us that Ireland has an increasingly urban population, with young people flocking to the cities and towns for education and job opportunities while the age profile of rural Ireland grows older.

“The effects of this outward migration have impacted heavily on many communities who have lost local businesses, post offices, Garda stations, public transport and teachers from the local school.”

As MEP MacManus points out, there has been an “enormous” shift towards remote working as a result of the pandemic, and will hopefully be aided by the rollout of the National Broadband Plan in the coming years.

Similar scheme existed previously

“The government must grasp this opportunity by actively encouraging and supporting those who wish to move to rural areas,” the MEP continued.

“The government’s rural development plan announced earlier this year commits to examining incentives to encourage workers to relocate.

“As part of this commitment, the government should explore the introduction of a rural resettlement scheme which would support families in relocating.

“Such a scheme existed previously and was operated by Rural Resettlement Ireland, who successfully relocated 800 families from urban communities to rural Ireland during its 20 years in operation, until the discontinuation of government funding in 2012 lead to its demise.

“The new scheme could operate in a similar manner, helping families secure low interest mortgages; matching families with suitable accommodation; and administering grants to incentivise relocation.

“Tax incentives for workers who relocate and a marketing campaign could be introduced by government to assist the scheme.”

Sustainable future for communities

The MEP added that communities who welcome young families to the area would “benefit significantly”.

“Increased population helps protect vital services and makes communities more economically viable.

“In addition, a younger population helps to ensure that these communities will have a sustainable future.

“In a time like this where we are in the midst of a serious housing crisis, a move away from our cities for many would mean a real opportunity to find a new quality of life.”