The Governments recent announcement of a 60 million euro plan for rural Ireland has been cautiously welcomed by rural interest groups. The current political turmoil and the extent of the economic decline in rural Ireland however mean that for many the promise of positive change in rural communities in the current political and economic climate seems like an impossible promise.
In the weeks following the announcement of this scheme has seen news stories about vulture funds targeting farms, foreign forestry companies targeting large areas of farm land, the passing of CETA, the planned closure of vital rural bus routes, and the revelation that one in every four rural households has had someone immigrate since 2006. Against such a political and economic climate the chance of any government scheme successfully addressing the decline in rural areas is slim.
The governments plan aims to create 135,000 jobs by 2020, a mere 444 euro invested for every job created. The exact details of how such a low investment could deliver sustainable employment against the background of political and economic turbulence remains unclear. The broad scope of the plan includes measures aimed at increasing tourism and investing 10 million in our national parks as well as schemes aimed at encouraging people to buy houses in rural towns and villages, alongside measures aimed at attracting foreign direct investment, and addressing the widening economic imbalance between Dublin and the rest of the country.
In many regards the proposed measures of this scheme does not amount to new investment, the ten million promised for national parks is a small sum in comparison to the 67% budget cut inflicted on the national parks and wildlife service since 2011. Similarly it is difficult to believe the promise of investments aimed at encouraging people to live in rural communities at a time when basic transport services are threatened due to a lack of state support.
We have examined the debacle of rural broadband previously. To date successive government have failed to bring Irish broadband coverage to a level similar to the rest of Europe. It is unclear how the current government intends to attract or develop industry in regions which still do not have sufficient broadband coverage, and are faced with the lose of basic public transport.
This scheme contains what the government is keen to present as a comprehensive plan for rural Ireland. However against the backdrop of various ongoing political issues the governments claim to be doing enough for rural communities rings hollow.
The passing of CETA will open up Europe to competition from Canadian companies. For Ireland this will mean more competition and downward price pressure for farmers. While the private courts of the investor state secret courts will give private companies the power to challenge government policy if it has the potential to impact private profit.
Under this system companies involved in the provision of vital infrastructure such of broadband, or companies profiting of government mismanagement such as those involved in Irish Water or the vulture funds targeting Irish loan and foreign companies buying up forestry land in Ireland, will all have the power to challenge government policy in secret courts.
The decline of rural communities is not a recent development, it has been ongoing over the last century, successive governments since independence have failed to provide economic stability in rural Ireland. This historic trend of rural decline which has seen the disappearance of the small holder class and the decline of family farms alongside a constant brain drain which has seen the migration of rural youths to Dublin or out of Ireland, will only be addressed when the government recognises that rural planning cannot be detached from other aspects of government policy.