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Rural development commission in pipeline

A new approach to countryside development is being considered by Government departments to support rural enterprise projects.

A commission for the economic development of rural areas is understood to have been proposed, with the task of drawing up a national strategy on rural enterprise.

While officials within the Departments of Agriculture and Environment are reported to have closely examined the idea, informed sources said the initiative has yet to be approved.

Its main focus is believed to be jobs for rural areas, and it is understood that meetings with rural development organisations, including farmers' groups and LEADER bodies, will get underway next week.

Teagasc personnel are involved in the initiative, which is based on a similar concept for rural development in operation in the US state of North Carolina.

Sources within the rural development sector stressed that terms of reference for the commission had not been drawn up, adding discussions on the idea had been "very loose" and that much more work needed to be done before the proposal could be launched.

Nonetheless, an announcement regarding the proposed strategy has been pencilled in for July.

Among the primary considerations would be funding for the body and the extent of its powers and responsibilities.

However, any commission that plans to dovetail with bodies already active in rural development, such as local LEADER groups, has the potential to be contentious.

It has been suggested that LEADER bodies should not be represented on any commission because they are local rather than national organisations.

However, Maura Walsh, of the IRD Duhallow development group, insisted that any commission for rural development should include local development groups.

"I would not be amused if any national commission or strategy omitted LEADER," she said.

She added that the issue of sourcing funding for the commission would be crucial.

Possible participants in the new body include the IDA, farm organisations and Irish Rural Link.

Indo Farming