WITH so much else happening in the world, such as Brexit on one side and the new US President Donald J Trump signing executive orders like there was no tomorrow on the other, the Irish government launched yet another plan in its, so far, unsuccessful efforts to arrest rural decline. ‘Realising our Rural Potential: The Action Plan for Rural Development’ is the latest iteration of the government’s response to constant widespread and justified criticism of unbalanced regional development.
The last government first tried to head this off with a report called ‘Energising Ireland’s Rural Economy,’ which was published at Easter 2014 by the Commission for Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA) after its chairman, Kerry footballing legend and latterday sports pundit Pat Spillane, spent several months engaging with people at public meetings throughout the country, seeking suggestions about rural development and how sustainable jobs could be created. Among the 38 recommendations it made was that a full government minister with sole responsibility for rural development should be appointed, but this has never been done since.
The new Action Plan for Rural Development is a lot more convoluted with 276 actions across five key pillars, namely, supporting sustainable communities, supporting enterprise and employment, maximising our rural tourism and recreation potential, fostering culture and creativity in rural communities, and improving rural infrastructure and connectivity. The latter is key if the plan is to succeed in its aim of supporting the creation of 135,000 new jobs in rural areas by 2020.
One Cork Fianna Fáil TD, who was ‘underwhelmed’ by the Action Plan, described it as a re-hash of previous such announcements by the government, after which nothing happened. Its success will only come from tangibly-quantifiable implementation; failure will cost the government dearly at the next election.