ON the surface, the first six-monthly progress report on the government’s Action Plan for Rural Development looks encouraging with 195 of the 202 actions due for delivery in the first half of 2017 either completed or in progress. The plan, published at the start of this year has a total of 276 actions across government, State agencies and other bodies for completion over the next three years.
With all such plans, the most easily-achievable are usually tackled first so that they can be seen to be hitting the ground running and ticking as many boxes as possible early on. However, it is good to note also that recently-appointed Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring, TD, is realistic about matters and cautioned that there is ‘no room for complacency’ in order to ensure that the commitments in the Action Plan are delivered on.
Brexit is going to be a bigger problem for rural areas because of the inevitable effect it will have on our agri food industry, so the Action Plan is going to have to factor this in, as what it needs to do most is stimulate job creation in order to help keep people living in country areas. Ultimately, this is what the Action Plan will be judged on.
Its raison d’etre was to bring the economic recovery out of the big towns and cities and into the heart of rural Ireland, as Fine Gael painfully learned at the last general election that voters were angry that the recovery had not found its way out there and, even worse, that the outgoing government seemed oblivious to that fact.
Of all the actions, the ‘big ticket’ issue has to be rural broadband, which is crucial to enable job creation.