Ru­ral In­cen­tive Scheme needs to ex­plore all of the po­ten­tial avail­able

The Argus - - OPINION -

GOV­ERN­MENT plans to pump mil­lions into ru­ral Ireland to help re­ju­ve­nate and sus­tain its way of life sound fa­mil­iar. An­nounced on Mon­day, ‘Re­al­is­ing our Ru­ral Po­ten­tial:

The Ac­tion Plan for Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment’ has no lack of sound­bites and, while it means well, does it re­ally ad­dress the needs of an ever-chang­ing ru­ral so­ci­ety?

Few can blame peo­ple in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties for their low ex­pec­ta­tions and, while wel­come, the new pro­pos­als seem vague. While the new scheme fo­cuses on ar­eas such as re­duced rates for ru­ral busi­nesses, pro­tec­tion of ru­ral schools, cash grants for ren­o­vat­ing dis­used build­ings and an ac­tion plan for the el­derly, as well as plans to tackle mo­bile phone and Broad­band cov­er­age, there are many ar­eas that sim­ply weren’t ad­dressed in Mon­day’s an­nounce­ment.

Will the new scheme lead to a re-open­ing of pubs, crèches, post of­fices, Garda sta­tions and other vic­tims of the re­ces­sion in ru­ral Ireland? Surely this should be a lit­mus test for any new plans.

While a cash in­cen­tive to ren­o­vate old and di­lap­i­dated build­ings is wel­come, what about the hun­dreds of homes built dur­ing the height of the boom that are not so old or di­lap­i­dated? There isn’t a vil­lage or town with­out these prop­er­ties ly­ing idle and while re­sus­ci­tat­ing older build­ings has merit, the oc­cu­pa­tion of homes in a turn-key con­di­tion would help speed up the new plans.

In the past decade or so, thou­sands of one-off homes were built in the coun­try­side by peo­ple with­out ties to the land and with no agri­cul­tural back­ground. More­over, many peo­ple also com­mute on a daily ba­sis to nearby towns and cities where they work in a broad cross-sec­tion of jobs and do lit­tle to add to the so­cial fab­ric of ru­ral ar­eas. This needs to be ex­am­ined in closer de­tail with a view to har­ness­ing skills that ex­ist lo­cally for the bet­ter­ment of ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

Ru­ral Ireland needs and de­serves more than just win­dow-dress­ing at this stage. Our coun­try­side is in dan­ger of be­com­ing like many of the ru­ral ar­eas in neigh­bour­ing UK – ro­man­tic places where week­end ex­cur­sions are the sum to­tal of their worth.

The gov­ern­ment is for­ever talk­ing about ways in which Ireland’s di­as­pora can pro­ject its in­flu­ence back into Ir­ish life and its econ­omy. The same ap­plies to peo­ple liv­ing in ru­ral Ireland who work in towns and cities. The new strate­gies need to be more cog­nisant of the broader de­mo­graphic of skills avail­able.

Of course, in many ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties this is al­ready hap­pen­ing with the likes of ac­coun­tants, builders, nurses, all adding an ex­tra di­men­sion to lo­cal com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tions which are the lifeblood of ru­ral Ireland. Life-sup­port ini­tia­tives for ru­ral Ireland need to recog­nise its chang­ing so­cial com­plex­ion.

While it’s time to fo­cus on the ru­ral groups that were bashed by the re­ces­sion, it’s also im­por­tant to sup­port groups and ini­tia­tives spawned by that same re­ces­sion and many of which are low cost and in­no­va­tive ideas that help re­vi­talise com­mu­ni­ties.

It is ru­ral peo­ple alone who will be left to fig­ure what to do once the gov­ern­ment’s ‘ think-tank’ rolls on to the next pro­ject.

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