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Dublin: 4 °C Thursday 12 December, 2019

'Resurrecting Ireland's villages': The new plan to get people to return home to rural Ireland

The government’s Action Plan on Rural Development is being launched today in Longford.

river (2) Source: Shutterstock

The government needs to take a fresh approach to rural Ireland, to ensure that our towns and villages are not left behind as the economy continues to grow.

THAT’S WHAT HEATHER HUMPHREYS, Minister for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys said in May last year.

Humphreys vowed to work with other departments to ensure there is greater political co-ordination on areas that impact rural Ireland.

Fast forward eight months and today the minister has managed to get the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and a number of high-profile ministers to join her down in Longford to announce the government’s new Action Plan on Rural Development.

The reason for such fanfare around the plan is that it was a key issue for independent TDs during its negotiations on entering government.

It is a key priority for the Independent Alliance and is also a key priority for independent TD, now Minister, Denis Naughten.

During the recession, rural towns and villages were drained of young people, with thousands emigrating abroad or to the larger cities. This has resulted in boarded up shop fronts, and a demographic imbalance in rural Ireland.

‘Let’s Keep the Recovery Going’ 

Fine Gael’s ‘Let’s Keep the Recovery Going’ slogan didn’t ring true to many country voters, which is perhaps one of the reasons the party now finds itself in a minority government.

90409301_90409301 Source:

Without a promise that rural Ireland would get some attention, rural TDs such as Naughten, Sean Canney and Kevin Boxer Moran most likely wouldn’t have entered into government with Fine Gael.

“During the election, every TD from rural Ireland were told by their constituents that rural Ireland was being left behind. We brought that to the table during the negotiations and fought hard for rural Ireland,” said Minister for State at Office of Public Works and Flood Relief, Sean Canney.

“This plan brings together ideas to resurrect and get rural Ireland going again,” he added, stating that it is an action plan with specific targets and timelines.

The programme for government commits to a new rural development minister (which was delivered in the form of Minister Humphreys), as well as an ambitious promise of delivering 200,000 jobs by 2020, of which 135,000 will be outside of Dublin.

In September, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor told Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins that 46% of all IDA site visits up the end of September took place in the Greater Dublin Area.


“Counties like Leitrim, Monaghan and Roscommon have been completely ignored by the IDA. There is no doubt that this imbalance will continue to entrench a two-tier economy across Ireland,” said Collins.

He called on the government to redouble its efforts to spread any emerging economic recovery fairly, and in a balanced manner.

So, is this what this new plan will do?

It certainly has ambitious targets based around a number of areas:

  • Supporting sustainable communities
  • Supporting enterprise and employment
  • Fostering culture and creativity in rural Ireland
  • Maximising rural transport and recreation potential
  • Improving rural infrastructure and connectivity

The action plan will cover a three-year period to 2020 and touches on a wide range of sectors in Ireland, including farmers, fishing communities, rural businesses, job seekers, rural communities and families.

The government plans to deliver 135,000 jobs to rural areas by investing €50 million up to 2020 for “collaborative approaches to job creation in the regions”.

IDA visits to these regions will also have to increase over the next few years if it is to meet its target of increasing Foreign Direct Investment to regional areas by up to 40%.

In order to help businesses operating in country villages and towns the Housing Department is also looking to roll out a rates alleviation scheme.

Also included in the plans, is the development of an Atlantic Economic Corridor to drive jobs and investment along the western seaboard.

shutterstock_447401257 Source: Shutterstock/tsyhun

Canney said there is a need for a more even spread of jobs around the country.

“The concept of the corridor is to counter-balance the east coast.”

Particular attention is placed on the job creation in the Gaeltacht, including the creation of 1,500 new jobs in Údarás na Gaeltachta (a regional authority responsible for development in the region) client companies by 2020 and the development of “innovation hubs” in the Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Kerry Gaeltacht regions to support entrepreneurship.

Canney said the west coast from Cork to Limerick to Donegal will be targeted to become “hubs for jobs” rather than the focus always placed on Dublin.

We need to attract people back to their hometowns by bringing more jobs to the regions. In turn, this will deliver more services to the regions, fill the schools, improve local economies and allow people to raise their families in rural Ireland.

He said this plan will not just benefit those living in the countryside.

“We can all see the detrimental impacts on our cities” said Canney, pointing to the growing population in urban areas, the lack of housing, and the homeless crisis in the capital.

But it’s not all about jobs. The government has a message for those that left their rural hometown: They want you to come back.

What’s in it for the returnees? The government says there are a range of initiatives to benefit over 600 rural and regional towns to be rolled out, including a pilot housing scheme to encourage people return to town and village centres.

Renovation grants to restore properties in rural communities aims to attract house buyers, particularly older people and first-time buyers, back to their rural communities.

The Buy and Renewal Initiative – which supports councils and approved housing bodies to purchase housing units that need refurbishment to be used for social housing – will be part of the plan, states the Housing Department.

The Repair and Leasing Initiative that Housing Minister Simon Coveney announced last year which allows councils to approach owners of vacant, privately-owned houses in need of repair, with the option to either lease or repair the housing unit, or to buy and remediate the unit are also included in the grand scheme.

In order to get people to set up business and return back to rural areas to live, the roll-out of high-speed broadband is to be accelerated so people can be connected to broadband “as early as possible”.

The plan commits to the development of exempted planning regulations for 4G antennae to improve networks.

The government plans to follow in the footsteps of the Wild Atlantic Way and market rural Ireland to tourists.

It’s hoped “activity tourism” to the west and midlands will increase visitors by 12% in the next three years.

There’s also going to be a €50 million funding injection in sports, recreation and cultural facilities throughout the country, including in rural areas.

The minister says the publication of the plan is only the start of the process and it will be updated on a regular basis with an opportunity to add new actions every six months.

It’s understood reports will be submitted regularly to the Cabinet Committee on Regional and Rural Affairs, which is chaired by the Taoiseach.

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