Monday 23 April 2018

Rural Incentive Scheme needs to explore all of the potential available

Editorial Comment

Government plans to pump millions into rural Ireland to help rejuvenate and sustain its way of life sound familiar.

Announced on Monday, 'Realising our Rural Potential: The Action Plan for Rural Development' has no lack of soundbites and, while it means well, does it really address the needs of an ever-changing rural society?

Few can blame people in rural communities for their low expectations and, while welcome, the new proposals seem vague. While the new scheme focuses on areas such as reduced rates for rural businesses, protection of rural schools, cash grants for renovating disused buildings and an action plan for the elderly, as well as plans to tackle mobile phone and Broadband coverage, there are many areas that simply weren't addressed in Monday's announcement.

Will the new scheme lead to a re-opening of pubs, crèches, post offices, Garda stations and other victims of the recession in rural Ireland? Surely this should be a litmus test for any new plans.

While a cash incentive to renovate old and dilapidated buildings is welcome, what about the hundreds of homes built during the height of the boom that are not so old or dilapidated? There isn't a village or town without these properties lying idle and while resuscitating older buildings has merit, the occupation of homes in a turn-key condition would help speed up the new plans.

In the past decade or so, thousands of one-off homes were built in the countryside by people without ties to the land and with no agricultural background. Moreover, many people also commute on a daily basis to nearby towns and cities where they work in a broad cross-section of jobs and do little to add to the social fabric of rural areas. This needs to be examined in closer detail with a view to harnessing skills that exist locally for the betterment of rural communities.

Rural Ireland needs and deserves more than just window-dressing at this stage. Our countryside is in danger of becoming like many of the rural areas in neighbouring UK - romantic places where weekend excursions are the sum total of their worth.

The government is forever talking about ways in which Ireland's diaspora can project its influence back into Irish life and its economy. The same applies to people living in rural Ireland who work in towns and cities. The new strategies need to be more cognisant of the broader demographic of skills available.

Of course, in many rural communities this is already happening with the likes of accountants, builders, nurses, all adding an extra dimension to local community organisations which are the lifeblood of rural Ireland. Life-support initiatives for rural Ireland need to recognise its changing social complexion.

While it's time to focus on the rural groups that were bashed by the recession, it's also important to support groups and initiatives spawned by that same recession and many of which are low cost and innovative ideas that help revitalise communities.

It is rural people alone who will be left to figure what to do once the government's 'think-tank' rolls on to the next project.

Enniscorthy Guardian