A route to prosperity or just another road to nowhere?
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. If good intentions could be converted into tar and chippings, there wouldn't be a pothole from Cork to Donegal.
Those of us who have seen plans come and go or have read piles of glossy documents promising a factory in every village and a light on every lamp post have reason to be cynical in the face of the publication of the latest Government document, 'Project Ireland 2040'.
They should call it 'The Road to Nirvana' or maybe they could give it a trendy Irish name like 'Slí Nirbheana'. Inevitably this would spawn a skyscraper of sub-committees such as the Slí Nirbheana Framework Policy Group, the SNFPG to those in the know, (to those not in the know, it would sound like something to be fired at an armoured personnel carrier). Of course there would also be the 'Slí Nirbheana Implementation Committee' or SNIC: "I can't meet you today, I have a SNIC meeting."
On and on it would go until the Slí Nirbheana Review and Monitoring Committee (SNRMC) concludes it was poor value for money and, from the start, was located in the wrong department. The SNRMC recommends it be split up and so 'Slí Nirbheana' becomes the road to nowhere. It disappears leaving behind a mountain of paper stored in a five-bay industrial unit along with tons of pristine 'final' reports unseen and barely touched by human hand.
Most people familiar with Government programmes and initiatives will recognise the pattern. In 1999 during Bertie Ahern's first tenure as Taoiseach, a much-anticipated 'White Paper on Rural Development' was published only to be swallowed by the Celtic Tiger. There is universal agreement that the implementation of the National Spatial Strategy published by Martin Cullen and Bertie in 2002 was a fiasco.
In January 2017, the current Government produced its infamous 'Action Plan for Rural Development'. This re-packaged mishmash of programmes and initiatives already in operation, or indeed concluded, was greeted with howls of derision by anyone who knew anything about rural development. The omens for the latest initiative are not good.
Over the last 20 years, national plans, rural plans and regional plans have come and gone, but one programme stands out as a consistent success in delivering development and jobs to rural Ireland - the LEADER programme. Principally funded by the EU under CAP and co-funded by the exchequer, it has delivered jobs, training, community capacity and improved infrastructure to rural communities throughout the country.
The Irish version of the programme used to be quoted throughout Europe as an example to follow. The key element was the 'bottom-up' approach, which involved locally based delivery companies, made up of local people drawn from across the sectors, identifying local programmes and projects for support. These companies became veritable hubs for a multitude of community and enterprise projects, both privately and publicly funded. Politicians had little control over them, meanwhile their success attracted many a jealous political glance.