The Rural Action Plan being launched this week represents an opportunity to present rural Ireland as modern and dynamic with a key part to play in the country’s economic fortunes, according to Minister of State and Galway East TD, Deputy Sean Canney.

Minister Canney, who spoke at today’s launch of the plan, at which the Taoiseach Enda Kenny attended, said the development and revitalisation of rural Ireland is a key priority in the Programme for a Partnership Government and one that the Independent Alliance has placed strong emphasis on.

“The Programme includes more than 80 commitments which will have an impact, directly or indirectly, on rural Ireland. These commitments are spread across a range of Departments, reflecting the whole-of-Government effort which is required if we are to progress the economic and social development of rural areas,” said Minister Canney.

“I also want to make clear that this is not simply a rural action plan. It is essential that we introduce a more balanced and cohesive approach to future development of this country. This cannot be done if there is an over-concentration of resources on the East Coast, to the detriment, as we have seen, for the people living there, with higher living costs in key areas such as housing.”

“The Action Plan has taken on board some 250 suggestions that have come from the public consultation process itself, not including additional engagement with all Government Departments, including my own Department of the OPW, bilateral meetings with key rural representative bodies and a series of six structured regional workshops with stakeholders.

Minister Canney added: “The objective of the Action Plan for Rural Development is to unlock the potential of rural Ireland through a framework of supports at national and local level which will ensure that people who live in rural areas have increased opportunities for employment locally, and access to public services and social networks that support a high quality of life.”

A key message in the Action Plan is that, while there are challenges to be overcome as referenced in the Plan, rural Ireland in the 21st century is modern, dynamic and creative, and is an integral part of our identity and economy. Ireland’s economy and heritage are heavily dependent on the contribution of rural areas, particularly in sectors such as Agri-food, the Marine Economy and Tourism. As indicated in the title of the Plan (Realising our Rural Potential), the objective is to tap in to the positive attributes of rural Ireland and unlock its full potential.

The Action Plan will cover a three-year period to 2020 and will benefit a wide range of stakeholders in rural Ireland, including farmers and fishing communities, rural businesses, job seekers, rural communities and families.

Minister Canney said the plan will also have specific targets including:

– Develop an Atlantic Economic Corridor to drive jobs and investment along the Western seaboard and contribute to more balanced regional development.

– Improve job opportunities for young people in rural areas by increasing the number of apprenticeships and traineeships available locally.

– Invest over €50 million in sports, recreation and cultural facilities throughout the country, including in rural areas.

– Protect vital services in rural Ireland by improving rural transport provision, enhancing rural GP services and protecting rural schools.

– Introduce a range of measures to boost job creation in the Gaeltacht, including the creation of 1,500 new jobs in Údarás na Gaeltachta client companies by 2020 and the development of Innovation Hubs in the Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Kerry Gaeltacht regions to support entrepreneurship.

– Combat rural isolation by improving connectivity and enhancing supports for older people, including significant investment in the Senior Alert scheme.

– Support the creation of 135,000 new jobs in rural Ireland by 2020 by supporting indigenous businesses, investing €50m up to 2020 for collaborative approaches to job creation in the regions, and increasing Foreign Direct Investment in regional areas by up to 40%.

– Implement a range of initiatives to benefit over 600 rural and regional towns, including a pilot scheme to encourage residential occupancy in town and village centres.

– Assist over 4,000 projects in rural communities to boost economic development, tackle social exclusion and provide services to people living in remote areas.

– Increase the number of visitors to rural Ireland by 12% in the next three years through targeted tourism initiatives, including increased promotion of Activity Tourism.

– Accelerate the preparation for the rollout of high-speed broadband and ensure that all homes and businesses in rural Ireland are connected to broadband as early as possible.

– Build safer communities by providing a more visible, effective and responsive police service in rural areas, and introducing a new community CCTV Grant Aid scheme.