Tuesday, 25 May 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
19. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development when her Department will publish the rural proofing model which underpins the Our Rural Future - Rural Development Policy 2021-2025 strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27968/21]
Our Rural Future is the new rural development policy covering the period 2021 to 2025 and, as I said earlier, is the most ambitious and transformational policy for rural development in Ireland for decades. It recognises that rural areas play an integral role in the economic, social and cultural well-being of the country and sets out a vision for vibrant and thriving rural towns, villages and communities. The policy contains more than 150 commitments, focusing on long-term sustainability and optimising services and opportunities for individuals, communities and businesses in rural areas.
Urban and rural areas are interdependent, and we must avoid an asymmetrical recovery which risks leaving people behind. This requires not only fulfilling the letter of Our Rural Future, but also the spirit of it on a cross-government basis. The policy commits to developing an effective rural proofing model that will ensure that all Departments fully consider the effects of new proposals on rural communities, the need for possible adjustments to better target the challenges and opportunities facing rural areas and to highlight any unintended impacts that may arise. Any rural proofing process adopted by the Government must be effective, efficient and implementable. The development of a rural proofing model will begin later this year with a scoping exercise that will include assessment of international best practice in this area. Finally, it is of note that in addition to the development of the rural proofing model, formal structures for the monitoring of policy implementation are in place and are overseen by the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment, chaired by An Taoiseach.
It is disappointing that work will not begin on this rural proofing model until later this year. I assume that will be after the Minister makes her initial plan for what will be carried out and what her list of actions will be for this year. Obviously, a rural proofing model is long overdue in respect of the impact of certain Government policies. In many cases it will be too late. However, it is very important. The Minister mentioned the need for the recovery to be balanced. After the last recession the recovery was not balanced, and many rural towns and villages never recovered from that recession. In some cases, that was due to decisions made by the Government and Government policies because there was no rural proofing and no consideration of the impact of certain measures on rural towns and villages. We see the result of that. I ask the Minister to look at developing the rural proofing model. Who will be involved in that regard? Can she give any more details? Will she be engaging with stakeholders on what it needs to be?
My Department will begin the process of developing a rural proofing model this year. It will also engage with colleagues across the Government, with the higher education network that is being established this year under another commitment in Our Rural Future and with other rural development experts as part of the scoping process. This process will also involve engagement internationally, for example, with the OECD, to assess and learn from other countries' experiences of rural proofing models. To be clear, when policy documents and changes come to the Cabinet, I am there, I check them and I raise any concerns that rural Ireland may have. I am the voice of rural communities at the Cabinet, and I have many other colleagues who are also committed to rural Ireland. The point is that we are continually looking at all policy documents through the lens of rural Ireland.
In regard to the engagements the Minister will have in respect of this new rural proofing model, I suggest that she engage not just internationally but also with the Northern and Western Regional Assembly which has done very good work relating to balanced regional development and the inadequacies that already exist. Unfortunately, while it is welcome to have that voice at the Cabinet, in many respects it is too late for many villages and towns. That is why we must ensure that any further Government policy decisions are considered as they relate to rural Ireland. While we all try to work together and have the schemes that are necessary to ensure all rural towns and villages have every opportunity to bounce back, we must also acknowledge the consequences of Covid-19 on top of that and the need to have protection for rural communities when it comes to Government decisions and policies.
To be fair, there has been unprecedented investment in rural Ireland. One need only look at the rural regional development fund, category 1 call, and the successful candidates. That amounted to €81 million. This is since the rural development policy was launched. There was €81 million for that, €15 million for outdoor recreation to support 126 new projects and €15.4 million for the town and village renewal scheme for 147 successful 2020 projects. For 2020-2021, there are calls for proposals, with €5.5 million for CLÁR, €14 million for outdoor recreation, €15 million for town and village renewal, €10.5 million for local improvement schemes as well as the €70 million LEADER transitional programme.
The Deputy referred to the Northern and Western Regional Assembly. I work very closely with the assembly. It is doing wonderful work and I want to continue to work with it and support it in what it is doing for the region and on how we can improve on it. I know it has some exciting plans and I am happy to collaborate with it in any way I can because I believe it is doing very good work there.