Tuesday, 25 May 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
1. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the timeline for the roll-out of the Our Rural Future - Rural Development Policy 2021-2025 strategy as promised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28239/21]
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. Our Rural Future is the new rural development policy for the period 2021 to 2025. It is the most ambitious and transformational policy for rural development in Ireland for decades, focusing on sustainability and optimising opportunities for individuals, communities and businesses.
The policy provides a framework to set out a vision for rural Ireland and contains more than 150 measures for delivery over the lifetime of the policy, for both short-term recovery and longer-term development. These commitments were developed in collaboration with Departments across the whole of Government.
A key commitment in the implementation of Our Rural Future is to produce annual work programmes, which will detail the actions being undertaken and associated timelines for delivery relating to the measures. The first work programme is at an advanced stage. It is currently being finalised and will be published imminently. It will outline the measures and actions for delivery in 2021, and associated timelines. It has been developed in conjunction with the Departments and agencies responsible for delivering the ambition of Our Rural Future.
The policy also commits to regular progress reports, the first of which will be published at the end of this year, with subsequent progress reports to follow every six months. Regular reports to the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment, chaired by An Taoiseach, will also ensure progress on the implementation of these commitments.
I welcome the publication of this plan as someone who has lived in rural Ireland all of her life and who would live nowhere else. It is an ambitious plan and I acknowledge that. The difficulty is that while it is a five-year strategic plan, it is disappointing that the timelines were not there in the first place. The Minister referred to short-term and longer-term deliverables but, again, there is no distinction in the report or in the 150 commitments it contains. Much of the funding for the action plan is repackaged funding, including the €2 billion to €3 billion for the national broadband plan and the €1 billion for the rural regeneration fund. In fact, I do not believe there is any new funding, at least figuratively, in the plan. Will the Minister indicate what are the targets in the plan for job creation in the context of the 400 remote working hubs?
We published Our Rural Future at the end of March. It is a very ambitious five-year policy. In fairness, it has been received extremely well, not just here in Ireland but also internationally. When the World Economic Forum, the Financial Times, CNBC and The New York Timescomment on our strategy, and to see it described as the most ambitious plan of its kind in Europe, it is very encouraging. We have a very strong policy, which is acknowledged by everybody, but the challenge now is in delivery. I assure the Deputy that my focus is on delivery.
The work programme for this year will be published shortly and will set out timelines for specific actions to be delivered this year. I will hold Ministers and Departments to account and make sure they deliver for rural Ireland.
If the Ceann Comhairle will bear with me, I want to acknowledge the work of a senior civil servant, Mr. William Parnell, in this plan. Mr. Parnell put a huge amount of work into it and he retired just after the plan was published. I wish him well in his retirement because he certainly put a lot of work into making sure we delivered on this plan.
I understood from the press conference after the launch of Our Rural Future that the list of actions to be worked on for this year was due at the end of that week or at least I believe it was said at the time that the timelines would be detailed in the next week. I acknowledge that this is an ambitious plan but I reiterate that it is disappointing there was not some timeframes built in there or that they were not published soon after the plan was launched.
There is a real overemphasis in the plan on non-existent broadband. The Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, acknowledged at the launch that just 12% of the 550,000 homes included in the national broadband plan will be connected by the end of this year. Does the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, have any engagement on the programme for Government commitment to accelerate the roll-out of broadband, and does she play any role in the possibility of that happening in a seven-year to a five -year plan?
I am in regular contact with the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications. He is trying to accelerate the roll-out of broadband. I also live in rural Ireland. There is a lot of broadband appearing now in areas where we had very poor coverage. The private operators are moving in now, as well as National Broadband Ireland. The acceleration and the roll-out of broadband has somewhat speeded up in the past months. As we know, Covid delayed some things, unfortunately.
We are working on the actions, as I said, and we will have them very shortly. Work continues in the meantime. I was delighted that we scaled up the town and village scheme. I changed the maximum grant up from €200,000 to €500,000. There are a number of actions on which we have already started to work.