DOWN­ING

ON POL­I­TICS

Irish Independent - Farming - - NEWS -

THERE was a time when you had to know your “gate­ways” from your “hubs”. But that was all of 15 years ago and it did not last long.

We are talk­ing about plan­ning for bal­anced re­gional de­vel­op­ment — or the lack of it, to be more pre­cise. No dis­re­spect to ev­ery­one liv­ing and work­ing in ru­ral Ire­land, but the re­al­ity is that since the 1971 Cen­sus we have known that the ma­jor­ity of Ir­ish peo­ple live in ur­ban rather than ru­ral ar­eas.

Since the late 1960s, we have also had var­i­ous well-ar­gued pro­pos­als to stop the ad-hoc growth of the greater Dublin area at the ex­pense of the rest of the coun­try.

Some of that growth is also to the detri­ment of Dublin it­self. But the var­i­ous pro­pos­als and plans were sadly ig­nored, and no­body re­mem­bers the 1969 Buchanan Re­port, for ex­am­ple, which talked some really good sense.

In Ca­van on Sat­ur­day, the Fine Gael party gave it a bit of “one more time with feel­ing” as they pub­lished ‘Build­ing a Repub­lic of Op­por­tu­nity’. Five of its 48 pages are de­voted to the ques­tion of bal­anced com­mu­nity and re­gional de­vel­op­ment.

This is all at the early stages. But it is full of good stuff which can form the ba­sis for some­thing we have rarely seen in this sec­tor: ac­tion.

Hope­fully, it can be dove­tailed with other moves al­ready afoot in that sec­tor, in­clud­ing work be­ing un­der­taken by the re­doubtable Michael Ring who is the new Min­is­ter for Ru­ral & Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment.

My ref­er­ence to “gate­ways and hubs” dates back to Novem­ber 2002 and the pub­li­ca­tion of the Na­tional Spa­tial Strat­egy (NSS) by the Fianna Fáil-Pro­gres­sive Demo­crat coali­tion.

This de­fined nine eco­nomic “gate­ways” and a sim­i­lar num­ber of smaller eco­nomic “hubs”.

By then the State’s five main cities — Dublin, Cork, Gal­way, Limerick-Shan­non and Water­ford — had al­ready been iden­ti­fied as “gate­ways”. The NSS added the towns of Dun­dalk, Sligo and Let­terkenny, while Athlone, Mullingar and Tul­lam­ore were to act as a “linked” gate­way.

The nine “hubs” were strate­gi­cally lo­cated medium-sized towns whose pop­u­la­tion could ide­ally be drawn upon to sup­port the eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity of the gate­ways.

The the­ory was that eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment would spread through the gate­ways to the hubs.

So, the gate­way/hub ar­range­ment would of­fer pos­si­bil­i­ties for em­ploy­ment, train­ing and qual­ity of life. We now know that if any of these things ac­tu­ally hap­pened, it was largely ac­ci­den­tal.

Any anx­i­ety about re­mem­ber­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween a hub and a gate­way quickly dis­persed.

The strat­egy, which was to span al­most two decades, 2002-2020, was in fact al­ways very ropey. Some peo­ple who really care about this is­sue in­sisted that any po­ten­tial good was spread far too thin.

Politi­cians feared that favour­ing Town A over Town B would be elec­torally fa­tal. So both towns nom­i­nally got some­thing, which in prac­ti­cal terms turned out to be noth­ing for either place.

The re­al­ity is that good plan­ning needs to move be­yond these lo­cal ri­val­ries. This is not about GAA cham­pi­onship der­bies, and the re­al­ity is that one town can feed off a nearby town’s de­vel­op­ment.

In any case, the en­tire thing was gonged 13 months later, in au­tumn 2003, when Fi­nance Min­is­ter Char­lie McCreevy sprung his no­to­ri­ous de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion plans.

That “back of the en­ve­lope” dis­per­sal of pub­lic of­fi­cials was it­self aban­doned amid staff re­sis­tance and the grim re­al­i­ties of the eco­nomic crash.

It’s back to the draw­ing board.

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