A new future for Rural Ireland

A new future for Rural Ireland

Waterford TD welcomes a new future for Rural Ireland with the announcement of the most ambitious and transformational policy for rural development in decades.

Waterford TD Marc Ó Cathasaigh welcomes a new future for Rural Ireland with the announcement of ‘Our Rural Future’, the new whole-of-Government policy for rural Ireland for the next 5 years which he describes as ‘the most ambitious and transformational policy for rural development in decades’. The policy which sees more than 150 policy commitments across government with annual additions is expected to benefit individuals, families, communities and businesses. It has been developed in consultation with rural stakeholders and it addresses the challenges for rural areas but also exploits the unique opportunities available to them.

Deputy Ó Cathasaigh said: “This is a great news day for Rural Ireland as we see this unique whole-of-government policy which will help revitalise our rural towns and villages and enhance communities while creating sustainable jobs and bringing life back into our town centres. Some of the elements of this new policy will make it easier for people to achieve a healthy work-life balance as we see a significant boost to the economies of the towns and villages which are the backbone of our country.  There are 150 actions in this plan, and each one is directly linked to at least one of the Sustainable Development Goals and I look forward to see it being rolled out from Dunmore East to Dungarvan and Cappoquin to Cheekpoint. This is an excellent model that I hope to see copied as much as possible in other Government policies and strategies. The policy reflects the unprecedented change in living and working patterns during COVID-19 and the significant opportunities this presents for rural communities – from remote working and revitalising our town centres to job creation, developing a green economy and enhancing our outdoor amenities.”

Three key Green Party priorities for Rural Ireland are addressed in the policy: Remote Working, Climate Action & Biodiversity Preservation and the revitalisation of our towns and villages through the Towns Centres First approach. Remote working has become the norm for many people in Ireland due to COVID-19 restrictions. ‘Our Rural Future’ will build on these changes to rebuild our rural economy and take action on Climate and Biodiversity while bringing town centres back to life.

Deputy Ó Cathasaigh continued: “The most transformative part of the policy is the focus on the ‘Town Centres First’ approach, which will bring our rural towns and villages come back to life through the use of existing buildings funded by public investment. This approach is currently being developed across Government and is a Green Party cornerstone. The policy will encourage people to live in our town centres and promote ‘over the shop’ living which will have a huge impact in towns like Tramore, Lismore, Kilmacthomas and Dungarvan. We will also see a significant improvement to rural public transport with the development of the Local Link service, more support given to integrated rural public transport services, and to piloting new transport initiatives to enhance the quality of life for people of all ages living in rural areas, including people with disabilities.  The rural policy aims not only to enhance economic and social life in our towns and villages, but cultural life as well with proposals on the Night Time Economy coming down the track.”

“Rural Ireland has an opportunity to thrive as we prepare to enter a post-COVID period. A lot of people found new ways of working during COVID 19 and don’t want to return to the old ways of sitting in traffic on a long commute. Many experienced and enjoyed a greater work-life balance and want that to be a feature of their lives going forward. This policy will allow for that with the introduction of a network of 400 remote working hubs which will transform our towns and villages and bring life back into our town centres. Remote working in Wi-Fi hubs brings significant environmental benefits with a reduction in transport and home heating emissions. It brings social benefits because it allows people to avoid long commutes but still have social contact which is beneficial for mental health. From an economic point of view, workers buying lunch and doing their shopping locally during the working week boosts demand for local businesses, helping to bring life back to rural areas. It will be transformative”

Minister for Transport, Environment & Communications Eamon Ryan spoke at the launch of the policy. He stated: “Now is the time to be ambitious for rural Ireland. The governments investment in climate action will bring new job opportunities to rural communities, in areas such as renewable energy, retrofitting and sustainable farming and tourism. The National Broadband Plan will act as a key enabler for the development of new businesses in regional and rural Ireland, together with an increased opportunity for people to work from home. Through the Just Transition Fund, Government is supporting the retraining and reskilling of rural workers and assisting local communities and businesses to adjust to the low carbon transition.

Minister Ryan continued: “We want to put the development and regeneration of our rural towns and villages at the heart of decision making, so that they are vibrant centres where people can live, work and socialise, with walking, cycling and public transport options connecting people and places. The Government will continue to support this active mobility through the National Transport Authority, with €72m in funding being allocated in 2021 for high quality cycling and walking infrastructure for our more rural towns and villages across the country. Through the implementation of Our Rural Future, Government will seize this unprecedented opportunity for rural Ireland.”

Deputy Ó Cathasaigh concluded: “As we experience a biodiversity crisis, the protection of biodiversity and the just transition to climate neutral economy are recognised as important opportunities for rural communities within the policy as it addresses the Green Economy and the Circular Economy and job creation opportunities these areas offer to Rural Ireland. We will see an unprecedented increase in the retrofitting and renewable energy sectors, peatland restoration, clean travel and sustainable agriculture and the benefits of these changes will transform our towns and villages. Our rural communities will experience opportunities they’ve never seen before and I look forward to the positive transformation that will follow.

The Our Rural Future policy is available here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/4c236-our-rural-future-vision-and-policy-context/