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Independent.ie

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Opinion: Menu of reheated old ideas for Rural Ireland leaves a bad taste in the mouth

Enda Kenny with Eamon Creamer, owner of a 1916 Ford Model T, in Ballymahon, Co Longford at the launch of the regeneration plan. Photo: Mark Condren
Enda Kenny with Eamon Creamer, owner of a 1916 Ford Model T, in Ballymahon, Co Longford at the launch of the regeneration plan. Photo: Mark Condren
Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

Fine Gael luminaries and their independent partners in government chose the library in Ballymahon, Co Longford, to unveil the latest regeneration plan for rural Ireland.

The veil was pulled to reveal a 276-point programme - surely something for everybody in the audience, and more besides. Alas, instead of a menu of novel and innovative measures, all we got was a stale, reheated old mash. Parts of the plan are as dated as the vintage car Enda Kenny was perched in for the all-important publicity shots.

At best, the plan is a compilation of activities and programmes already happening in rural Ireland. Of the 276 'actions', more than 100 are described in the document as 'ongoing', while many of the rest are provided for in other plans and programmes.

In popular-music parlance, this is a retrospective album dressed up and presented as new and original material. It is a blatant attempt to fool the people into thinking something new is happening.

Parts of the plan are downright laughable. For instance, action point 135 tells us that the Department of Social Protection, its officers and offices will continue to support rural jobseekers. Phew! That is reassuring.

The funding for the plan is derisory - €60m for 600 towns and villages over three years. This equates to a €641 per community per week.

Rural Ireland is in continuous decline primarily because of an absence of vision, imagination, political will and guts. Dublin has been allowed to expand beyond its capacity, thanks to decades of economic expedience and political laziness.

There is gridlock on the M50, working young people will never be able to afford housing in the capital, and what hope is there for the thousands of homeless people?

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Meanwhile, those commuting longer and longer distances are paying a huge cost in terms of transport charges and quality of life.

How often do the politicians have to be told? Rural areas need access to broadband, roads and decent services. In other words, they need a share of the wealth that is swilling around the rapidly expanding capital.

The last thing the people of rural Ireland need is yet another anaemic plan designed to placate the masses and purchase for their current political masters another season in power.

Are courage, sincerity, decent strategic thinking and political will too much to ask for?


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