Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister Heather Humphreys launch the plan
THE government’s ambitious Action Plan for Rural Ireland, launched this week, is designed to bring “tangible benefits” to people and communities all over Limerick and will help revitalise the county, Minister of State for Transport and Tourism, Patrick O’Donovan has claimed.
More jobs, broadband in every home, primary care centres, increased visitor numbers and improved community facilities are all part of the package and included in the 270 “targeted actions” laid out in the plan.
But which towns and villages in Limerick will be among the 600 nationally to be supported under the plan have not yet been spelled out.
Minister O’Donovan emphasised that a lot more than €60m funding would be involved. He instanced the €50m which will be spent on sports and recreation centres.
In addition, there will be investment of up to €37 million per annum in rural development schemes such as the Town and Village renewal Scheme, the CLÁR Programme and the Rural Recreation Programme.
Funding will also available to help create up to 135,000 extra jobs outside Dublin and money has been earmarked for roads, flood relief and broadband.
But, as local community activist, James Harnett of Abbeyfeale pointed out, Limerick has had the second highest rate of emigration in the country, after Donegal.
“The results are quite obvious,” he said, citing empty premises in towns and villages across the county.
In Abbeyfeale alone, one in six business premises is empty while the figure in Newcastle West is one in five and is estimated at one in four in Kilmallock. Some villages have lost their post office and their shops.
”The point I would make is that the Action Plan for Rural Ireland has to go beyond a make-over for the towns,” said Mr Harnett, who spoke on the issue in RTE’s Prime Time on Tuesday night.
“It has to go much deeper than that. We have to have some form of incentive to bring business, particularly businesses the like of new technological companies, out to towns like ours.”
”We now have everything for them,” Mr Harnett said, citing Abbeyfeale’s advantages close to Shannon airport, with fibre broadband and a huge second level school.
“A lot of those students will never have the opportunity to return to work at home. Meanwhile, places like Dublin and Cork are picking up new factories with 100 jobs, or 70 jobs or 50 jobs.”
”At the same time, people at the receiving end of those jobs are paying €2000 a month for apartments when they could get three-bedroom houses here for €550 a month and have a better quality of life.”
“We have lost so many of our young people,” Mr Harnett continued.
However, Mr Harnett added: “We have to grasp at any bit of support we can.”
”We feel like we are in no-man’s land. We are stuck between the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East and we want a piece of the action,” Mr Harnett said.
Aidan Gleeson, the chairman of Ballyhoura Development in east and south east Limerick, stresses the need for consultation with local communities.
”There are people on the ground who know what is needed. The communities themselves know what is needed. And to get the best bang for their buck, there has to be full consultation,” he said.
“From what I have taken from the Action Plan so far, it is a positive thing that they are looking at the needs of people in rural Ireland.”
But again, he warned, it is not something that can be imposed from Dublin. Towns and villages in the area covered by Ballyhoura had suffered, Mr Gleeson acknowledged.
“They all have challenges,” he said. “The rural areas have not had the same level of recovery as in Dublin.”
”Definitely, there is action needed.”
”Rural Ireland should never be seen as a challenge to be overcome; rather it is an asset that should be valued and nurtured,” Heather Humphries, Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltachts Affairs says in the foreword to the plan.
“In fact, it’s time to change the narrative around rural Ireland.”
“For too long, policy approaches to rural Ireland have lacked co-ordination or have focused on specific thematic issues such as agriculture or social inclusion. This approach has failed to address the wider and inter-dependent economic and social needs of rural communities in a cohesive way.
"This Action Plan, the first of its kind, takes a co-ordinated approach to rural development right across the remit of Government policy to 2020.”