THE ambitious plan which aims to revitalise rural areas in the post-Covid era launched by the Government has the potential to be a real game changer.
“Our Rural Future” represents the Government's blueprint for post-Covid recovery and the development of rural Ireland over the next five years.
It provides the framework to achieve the vision of transforming the quality of life and opportunity for people living in rural areas and builds on progress achieved through the Action Plan for Rural Development 2017-2019
In a statement formally launching the plan the Government described it as “forward-looking and underpinned by the Project Ireland 2040 objective of achieving strengthened rural economies and communities.”
“This policy is built around the centrality of people who make up the communities that support and maintain the fabric of rural Ireland. We want to enhance their resilience and ensure their meaningful participation on issues that impact on their lives. It is built around the places where our rural communities live, where businesses start up and grow, and which are gateways to our heritage, culture and natural environment. We want our towns and villages to be vibrant and lived-in places which capitalise on their local strengths and assets,” the statement continued.
Certainly it is hard to disagree with these sentiments and it is welcome that the Government is investing significant funding to ensure that these plans come to fruition.
Central to the plan is major investment in remote working, a lifestyle change which has become a feature of many of our lives in this era of Covid restrictions on travel and social interaction.
This funding includes relocation grants, tax incentives and funding for community groups and local authorities.
The plan also has a dedicated “towns first policy” with investment planned for enterprise spaces, co-working hubs and remote working facilities in towns throughout the country.
Every cloud has a silver lining and the switch to remote working during Covid has created a whole range of possibilities for rural Ireland which could not have been envisaged 12 months ago.
Instead of being forced to move to cities young people now have a real chance to pursue careers in their home areas.
Job opportunities will be available to people no matter where they live thus reinvigorating rural communities which have been in a state of decline for many decades.
We have all witnessed the closure of post offices, garda stations, pubs, shops and other amenities in rural towns and villages over the recent past and this plan offers an opportunity to reverse this decline.
But it is crucial that the Government follows through on the lofty aims contained in the plan with meaningful policy decisions over the next five years.
It must play a leading role by facilitating public sector employees who wish to work from their home areas rather than from city based offices.
Of course the plan does face huge challenges and no doubt many Dublin-based businesses and organisations will do everything in their power to promote the concept of city living.
The plan's objective is to achieve the sustainable development of rural areas by encouraging local economic growth, arresting decline, and ensuring that rural Ireland continues to be a vibrant and lived-in place.
There is no reason why both cities and rural areas cannot thrive and develop economically and socially.
But the Government must play the leading role in ensuring that both town and country can thrive in the post-Covid era.