Tuesday 20 February 2018

Minister Humphries says it is 'easy to feel isolated or forgotten' in rural Ireland

Heather Humphreys
Heather Humphreys

Greg Harkin

Regional development minister Heather Humphries said today the Government has a national plan for rural development in the country, admitting that many communities feel isolated and forgotten.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties in Co Donegal the politician also hit out at “self perpetuating negativity” of those criticising rural communities.

“Ireland is a small country, but it is easy to feel isolated or forgotten when you live in an area which has often been overlooked in terms of investment, both domestic and foreign,” she said.

“As someone who lives on a farm in rural Ireland just a few miles from the border, I know that feeling.”

She said he welcomed having the debate in Co Donegal.

“Too often these conversations take place in the cosy confines of Dublin 2,” she said.

Announcing an Action Plan for Rural Ireland, he said: “The Action Plan format, developed so successfully through the Action Plan for Jobs, takes a strategic approach based on implementation.

“Government Departments are given key objectives which they must meet in the context of regional and local priorities.

Heather Humphries at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties in Co Donegal
Heather Humphries at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties in Co Donegal

“A regular and structured reporting mechanism will be initiated and progress reports will be delivered to the Cabinet Committee on Regional and Rural Affairs chaired by an Taoiseach.

“Included in this process will be the consideration of regional and rural issues in the design of the National Planning Framework.

“This framework is the follow up to the National Spatial Strategy and its development will be lead by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government.”

The Minister said the Government wants to ensure that as the economy continues to recover, people living in rural areas are given a fair crack of the whip.

“We want to build a more evenly spread recovery, which in turn will help build a fairer and more just society. Much of the rhetoric bandied about in relation to rural Ireland is inaccurate and has a self perpetuating negativity,” he said.

“Despite much talk of rural Ireland being in decline, we know that the official statistics show that the fastest jobs growth has been outside the capital. Unemployment has fallen in every region since the crash.”

The minister admitted that the lack of broadband in rural areas remained one of the most serious issue affecting those communities.

“In my view, the single most important factor in the sustainability and continued rejuvenation of rural Ireland and the regions is the roll out of rural broadband,” she said.

“High speed broadband has the potential to be a game changer for rural Ireland, and its development and investment opportunities.

“It will quite literally plug rural communities into a world of opportunities which are currently out of reach.

“Delivering the National Broadband Plan is a top priority for Government and the allocation of new responsibilities at Cabinet level also signals the Government’s firm intention to address broadband and other telecoms challenges in rural Ireland.”

The Minister said she met local authority managers yesterday to discuss her plans.

“The aim is to deliver high speed broadband to every home, school and business by 2020 through a combination of commercial investment and State intervention.

“Essentially, the State will intervene where commercial providers are failing to reach.

“The Department of Communications is continuing to manage the procurement process for the State contract, which is expected to be awarded in Summer 2017.

“In the meantime, my new Department is working with local authorities to eliminate any roadblocks, so we can ensure that towns and villages and rural areas are broadband ready when the contract is signed. It’s about getting the runway ready now, so the plane can land smoothly next summer.

“It is difficult to overestimate the challenge we are facing.

“The broadband blackspots in need of State intervention account for 750,000 addresses, and cover 96% of our land mass. We’re talking about 100,000km of road network, traversing areas which are home to 1.8 million people.

“Put simply; it’s a very big job - it's akin to rural electrification. But it will be worth the effort, and it will have a transformative effective on rural Ireland.”

Online Editors

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