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rural affairs

Minister: 'Seriously, we haven't forgotten about rural Ireland'

Ann Phelan is travelling to Brussels today to meet with Phil Hogan.

THE MINISTER WITH responsibility for rural affairs has stressed that the Government remains committed to strengthening the economic recovery in areas outside of towns and cities.

Many rural communities are still being left behind when it comes to any kind of economic recovery, one expert has said.

Labour’s Ann Phelan is in Brussels today to meet with EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan to discuss how best to boost those areas.

“For far too long, rural Ireland, i.e. constituencies outside of Dublin, have not experienced the same scale of recovery as their urban counterparts,” she said in a statement yesterday.

“It is my job to be the voice for rural Ireland, to assist communities in developing their local economies while also driving job creation and business investment in areas such as in the Midlands and the South-east, which have a wealth of resources and infrastructure that can be tapped into.”

This Government is serious about the rejuvenation of rural Ireland.

In the last Cabinet reshuffle, Phelan was given special responsibility for rural Ireland (Rural Economic Development, including the implementation of the CEDRA report,  and rural transport, to be specific).

The CEDRA report examined the rural/urban divide that exists in Ireland.

Experts have noted that rural Ireland has seen a certain level of recovery in the last year but the focus on investment in cities and the surrounding areas is leaving many communities in the dark.

Cathal O’Donoghue, Head of Teagasc’s Rural Economy and Development Programme, told there is a “vicious cycle” at play with people out of work and therefore spending less money locally.

There is no “big bang” solution to this problem, O’Donoghue explained – it will take a lot of small factors coming together to make any significant difference.

“If one small, 30-plus sized FDI company came into a medium-sized town, that could have a very big knock-on effect on the local community,” he said.

Support for small businesses in rural areas, including increased access to capital, will be needed too. O’Donoghue said many businesses that had been hanging on through the tough years had to close around Christmas last year.

Most importantly for the minister will be pushing forward with the Rural Development Programme and ensuring that it is a priority in Europe so that the gradual growth we are seeing can seep into communities that, right now, feel like they have been abandoned, according to O’Donoghue.

With reporting by Michelle Hennessy

Opinion: Rural Ireland is tough and resilient – but it needs more support >

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