In January, the Taoiseach launched the Rural Charter, A statement of Government Commitment to support Rural Ireland’s regeneration and to underpin the future sustainable development of Ireland’s rural communities.
Maybe the attention was already focussed on the upcoming election, but given the recent focus on rural Ireland and the perceived two speed recovery; where the recovery in urban areas and especially Dublin is not being felt in rural Ireland, the launch of the Rural Charter received remarkably little attention.
The Charter for Rural Ireland January 2016 (pdf, 1,261 kb) is a short document (13 pages) containing 10 commitments and aims ‘to support and accelerate rural Ireland’s regeneration’ (p.3).
The commitments include
- the development by the end of 2016 of a Rural Development Policy Framework, the preparation of which will include ‘full and comprehensive public consultations’, as well as the involvement of Government Departments and State Agencies. This framework will also feed into the development of the forthcoming National Planning Framework.
- the Rural Development Policy Framework will include ’a mandatory system of assessment to ensure that future Government policies are designed with full and stated consideration of their impact on Rural Ireland’– a type of rural proofing.
- the introduction of a robust reporting mechanism requiring each Government Department to report on actions as they relate to rural Ireland.
At the local level
- Guidelines will be introduced for local community development committees (LCDCs) to support participation by rural dwellers in local economic development.
- All stakeholders will collaborate and seek to eliminate barriers to rural enterprise development.
The Rural Development Policy Framework aims to create systems which will provide a basis for all stakeholders to work together to support enterprise development, job creation and a high quality of life. Government Departments will be required to ensure that impacts on rural Ireland are fully considered and policies and strategies will be amended if they are seen to be impacting negatively on rural areas.
The commitments in the Rural Charter recognise the need for action at national and local levels, they seek to include all stakeholders and actions are required within a short timeframe, all of which are welcome.
In this election campaign rural issues are an important theme, with the need to spread the recovery to all regions a constant refrain. It will be important that rural policy, whoever is returned, builds on the extensive work that has been done to-date.
There has been much analysis and research of what the problems are and what can be done for Rural Ireland. Most recently, the Commission for Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA), chaired by Pat Spillane and supported by the WDC and Teagasc, has done extensive research on what are the problems and what are the solutions during 2012-2014. The associated publications and research is available at www.ruralireland.ie.
On various policy issues there has been a lot of work going on behind the scenes. Where policy improvements have been instigated, these should be supported.
For example, the most significant infrastructure barrier facing rural Ireland is quality broadband. There is the National Broadband Plan, currently at procurement phase, with rollout to commence towards the end of this year. This aims to deliver future proofed broadband to all. The planned rollout is often compared to rural electrification in its significance and while the timescale is not fast enough for many, its objective is to solve the rural broadband problem for a generation or more. This compares with previous interventions which only ‘fixed’ the problem for a couple of years at most. It will be important that this policy is continued and fully supported by the new Government.
There are other policy areas where more needs to be achieved. The publication of the Rural Charter and the commitments it contains is very welcome. Its continued implementation needs to be supported following the election to ensure that Rural Ireland can contribute to and benefit from continued economic recovery.