Scríofa ag Eamon Ó Cuív Dé Luain, 08 Márta 2010
Tá mé buíoch díobh as ucht an deis seo chun labhairt libh faoi pholasaithe an Rialtais maidir le forbairt tuaithe. Tá ról ar leith ag na comhairlí chontae san obair seo mar gheall ar an tábhacht a bhaineann leis na pleananna chontae ó thaobh polasaithe forbartha tuaithe an Rialtais a chur i bhfeidhm ar an talamh.
I believe that we must approach all policy issues with the core question of what kind of Ireland do we want to live in? What social outcomes do we want to achieve for all of our communities, rural and urban? Rural development is part of a much bigger question about the quality of community life in both urban and rural communities.
Do we want rural decline and urban sprawl or balanced development?
EU and national frameworks for rural development
The high-level rural policy of the European Union is to develop all areas, and to ensure balance between all regions. The European Union’s core objective in rural development is the “improvement of the quality of life in rural areas and the diversification of the rural economy.”
The EU Lisbon Treaty also underlines that particular attention shall be paid to rural areas. The EU Regulation on Rural Development actively supports the creation of vibrant rural communities and the diversification of the rural economy. The Government’s own White Paper on Rural Development is clear, and states that:
“The Government is committed to ensuring the economic and social well-being of rural communities, to providing the conditions for a meaningful and fulfilling life for all people living in rural areas and to striving to achieve a rural Ireland in which there will be vibrant sustainable communities…”
Central to ensuring the achievement of the European Union’s and indeed the Government’s rural development policy is the implementation of the state’s policies on rural housing. The more self-sustaining the population of a rural area the better the quality of life within it, as it is then more economical to provide a greater range of jobs, services and activities there. I believe that the Government’s Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines provide an effective means to address this issue recognising as they do the need to both stop urban sprawl and to recognise the different needs of differing types of rural areas.
Even after the economic boom we see that there is a steady sustainability in the area of rural housing as it caters for need rather than being driven by speculation.
Diversifying the rural economy
Job creation is a priority for the Government at this time, and a key part of the Government’s rural development policy is the roll-out until 2013 of the Rural Development Programme to create 12,000 new jobs by diversifying the rural economy and to improve the quality of life in rural areas. Co Clare’s rural economy has been allocated €14million over the programme period and this will inject almost as much money again through matching funding. The development of rural recreation, including all land and water based activities are helping to unlock realise the huge potential of our rural areas.
The Rural Development Programme has the potential to tap into more of this potential through the diversification of our local rural food and rural accommodation and rural recreation products. The Walks Scheme, the Rural Social Scheme and the Community Services Programme will continue to work in tandem with this development. Co Clare has a lot to offer the overseas visitor - everything from the inland waterways to the Atlantic Cliffs of Moher. Nationally we have more than 5,000 people employed by these schemes. Many of the infrastructural difficulties have been dealt with by the CLÁR programme, and the Government are committed to the future of this programme.
The changing dynamic of distance
In the economic doom and gloom we should not lose sight of the fact that new opportunities are being opened up by the development of the motorway network which is making all our regions more competitive in the global market. Improvements to broadband and to transport are changing the dynamics of distance. The roll-out of the National Broadband Scheme is essential for rural communities. The dual transport corridor of the Western Rail Corridor and the Atlantic Road Corridor will change the game in terms of transport access for Co Clare for example. The M18 will connect the M6 Galway-Dublin road to the north and the M7 Limerick-Dublin road to the south. The opening of the Ennis-Galway section of the Western Rail Corridor in a few weeks time will have the same effect.
Spatial planning and rural development
A balanced and sensible approach to spatial planning is
We need neither urban sprawl nor a mass of holiday homes in rural areas. We do need to strengthen the RAPID areas which include the most disadvantaged areas in the country – and they are all urban. We do need to strengthen those rural areas that have been in decline, particularly CLÁR areas. I believe that these two objectives are closely intertwined with each other and are central to achieving the kind of Ireland that we want to live in.
Balanced and sensible spatial planning must take account of the fact that people will always have an affinity to the place that they are from. The changing dynamic of distance through better infrastructure and broadband should actually make it easier to locate people’s work closer to where they live rather than moving everybody to be close to their workplace. Some people believe that the only way forward is to forcibly concentrate all development and population around a limited number of Gateways and hubs,
A recent U.S. Ambassador to Ireland quoted the example of the origins of the computer software industry in Silicon Valley, California as supposedly being based on the fact that the inventor of silicon wafer technology Dr Shockley’s wife’s mother lived there. Naturally, she wished to live close to her mother so they chose to live in Silicon Valley. This is an example on the effect natural human connections have on the location of innovation and enterprise.
We understand this in rural Ireland where we have the unique social fabric of the townland or baile fearainn. Our rural townlands are not just a random scattering of houses across open fields as some would have one believe. Strong inter-generational social structures exist in these areas. The strenth of these communities will be clear for all to see on flags and banners on days when the community stands together, such as All Ireland and county finals, and I would like to take this opportunity ti wish Kilmurray Ibrickane well in their upcoming big day in Croke Park on 17th March!
As Jim Conolly of Rural Resettlement Ireland wrote:
“Humanity is eternally complex, unpredictable, political, highly mobile, multi-cultured and on the whole, little given to bowing to diktats from elitist groups who claim to know what’s best for everybody else”
These are all things that we need to keep in mind when we seek to implement Government policy on the ground and which we must keep in focus in any work on the area of local government in the months ahead.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh