On Monday, March 29th, the Government published Our Rural Future, the blueprint for a post-COVID-19 recovery and development of rural Ireland over the next five years. Containing more than 150 commitments, covering everything from remote working and revitalising our town centres to job creation, developing a green economy and enhancing our outdoor amenities, the new Rural Development Policy is being described as the most ambitious and transformational of its kind in Ireland in decades.
The whole-of-Government policy was launched in Croke Park by An Taoiseach Micheál Martin, An Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys, and Minister for Transport and the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan.
An Taoiseach Micheál Martin began proceedings outlining the Government’s vision for Our Rural Future:
“The commitments outlined today will benefit individuals, families, communities and businesses. It will enhance the wellbeing and quality of life of people living in rural areas.
“It will build resilient and sustainable rural communities and economies through investment, supports and services. And it will ensure that rural communities are at the heart of designing and delivering responses that meet local needs.”
Through this policy, the Government is adopting a more integrated, place-based approach to rural development to maximise investment and meet the long-term needs of individual parishes, villages and towns. Rural communities will be encouraged and supported by Government to develop cohesive Master Plans, covering economic, social, cultural and environmental needs, to best utilise the unique strengths and assets of each individual area.
Through this lense of community-led development, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys, spoke of the need for local actors to make the difference in their areas:
“The people best placed to effect change in rural communities are the people who live there.”
Among the commitments aimed at supporting communities to create their own future within the policy, is the establishment of a Rural Youth Assembly to allow young people to engage in issues that impact on them; the development of a single portal to provide a funding roadmap on the range of programmes available across Government for rural and community development; the provision of mentoring and training for community development leaders, particularly between the ages of 18 and 25; and the enhancement of the Public Participation Network and Local Community Development structures to ensure that local communities are fully involved in decision making.
Also outlined within the policy is the Government’s commitment to the €70 million Transitional LEADER Programme for the period 2021-22, and development of a new LEADER programme, to commence in 2023.
As far as supporting agriculture is concerned, the Government has committed to the implementation of a new Agri-Food Strategy to 2030; the delivery of Ireland’s new CAP Strategic Plan for the period 2023-2027; the roll out of Ag Climatise, a roadmap towards climate neutrality; and the expansion of the number of farmers’ markets, farm shops and community-owned markets countrywide. The Government will also support generational renewal, including young farmers and women in agriculture and will assist R&D in agri-food, smart agriculture and precision agriculture to promote and encourage innovation and diversification.
At the core of the delivery of Ireland’s new Rural Development Policy is the desire to have more people living and working in rural Ireland, with good prospects, regardless of where their employer is headquartered. The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys, emphasised the opportunities arising for this, from the launch of Our Rural Future:
“For decades we have seen global trends where young people leave their local communities to live and work in larger cities. As we emerge from COVID-19 we will never have a better opportunity to reverse that long-standing trend.
“The move to remote working, underpinned by the rollout of the National Broadband Plan, has the potential to transform Rural Ireland like never before.
“It will allow people to work from their own local communities, revitalise our town centres, reduce commuting times, lower transport emissions and most importantly – improve the quality of life of our people.”
Worker-led decentralisation will be supported by Government in a number of ways, notably through the development of 400 remote working facilities, with shared back office services and a single booking platform for users, as well as a further commitment to move to 20 per cent home or remote working in the public sector in 2021, with annual increases over the lifetime of the policy.
Our Rural Future, Ireland’s new Rural Development Policy is available here.