Offaly TD says Project Ireland 2040 fails rural Ireland
Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, Offaly TD for Sinn Féin Carol Nolan called on the Government to explain what measures it had taken to ensure equitable rural development in the Project Ireland 2040 planning process.
Deputy Nolan tabled the Topical Issue motion in response to what she described as "the spatial imbalance of the National Framework Plan and its failure to include measures to redress rural decline."
Carol specifically asked the Government to describe what ‘Rural Proofing’ metrics, processes and methodologies that were used to throughout all stages of the Plan and which stakeholders contributed to that process.
"This Government claims to have strong rural credentials. It claims it is committed to ensuring the interests of rural communities and that businesses are equitably accounted for in planning, policies and programmes. However this is not evident in the Project Ireland 2040 Plan. There is little or no evidence that this Plan was subjected to a robust process of Rural Proofing.”
The Sinn Féin TD outlined what would be expected in a good practice approach to rural proofing and the expected outcomes. “Rural Proofing is not an abstract idea – it is a methodical and systematic process of stress testing proposals to ascertain whether or not they will achieve critical targeted outcomes in rural areas."
"This systematic impact assessment approach is informed by statistical data and comprehensive processes of enquiry with key rural stakeholders."
Nolan continued to stress that Rural Proofing should be started at the outset of a planning process in order to identify intended or unintended impacts on key factors such as the rural economy, agriculture, rural services, SMEs, employment creation, demographic trends, access to rural services and infrastructure.
“Rural Ireland is not a homogenous ‘non-urban’ hinterland and solutions for coastal and island regions will vary substantially from those in the Border area, and it will differ again from those in the Midland region Given the spatial imbalance of the National Framework Plan and its failure to include measures to redress rural decline there is no evidence that Project Ireland 2040 has been subjected to rigorous rural stress testing or that it meets any international standard rural proofing best practice," Carol commented.
"Given the Government’s failure to reach its own rural development targets over the past two years with job creation at 12% of its target, LEADER expenditure at 0.3% of its budget; rural broadband far behind schedule, and rural Housing targets not achieved, there is little reason to expect Project 2040 to deliver outcomes for rural Ireland."
"I am asking the Government to detail the specific metrics, processes and methodologies that were used to ‘Rural Proof’ the Project Ireland 2040 Plan throughout all stages of development and which stakeholders contributed to that process."
In response, Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government Damien English gave a lengthy statement about the consultation process that was adopted, but Nolan claims he "failed to make any reference to any rural proofing techniques or impact assessments undertaken."
“I am very disappointed with your response,” stated Deputy Nolan. “It is evident you are missing the point entirely."
Afterwards Nolan stated that Minister English’s response was revealing. “It is clear that the Government has neither methodologies, processes nor procedures in place to rural proof this or any other Department’s activities."
"It is clear that the Minister did not understand the distinction between ‘consultation’ and ‘rural proofing’ and it is clear that Project Ireland has not been subjected to any methodical rural impact assessment, all of which is a shocking indictment on this over-hyped, spatially imbalanced, Government vanity Plan," Nolan concluded.
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