The Government has launched an ambitious five-year blueprint for the development of rural Ireland and counties like Roscommon, which includes 150 commitments such as the development of remote working hubs, an extension of services at post offices, and financial supports to encourage people to live and work in rural areas.
‘Our Rural Future’ was unveiled in the teeth of the Covid-19 pandemic by An Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and by the Minister for Social Protection, Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys, who said it was aimed at “reimagining the type of rural future we want for our young people and seizing on the opportunities created by the pandemic such as remote working”.
Among the proposals are plans to increase the number of public sector employees working from rural areas, ‘significant’ investment in remote working, the use of rural pubs as community spaces, and an expansion of the Town and Village Renewal Scheme.
Minister Humphreys, who compared the plan to the rural electrification scheme, added: “Our Rural Future is about creating opportunities for our rural citizens, young and old. It’s about creating good quality jobs. It’s about allowing people to live and work in their own communities. A huge focus of this ambitious policy is remote working…the benefits are huge; reduced commuting times, more time spent with family, increased footfall in rural towns, and most importantly – a better quality of life for people”.
Fine Gael Senator Aisling Dolan said the plan, which includes developing a network of 400 remote working facilities across the country, would also support economic recovery in County Roscommon.
“The policy reflects the unprecedented change in living and working patterns during Covid-19, and the significant opportunities this presents for rural communities – from remote working and revitalising our town centres in County Roscommon, to job creation, developing a green economy and enhancing our outdoor amenities.
“For decades, we have seen the global trends where young people leave their local communities in Roscommon to live and work in larger cities. As we emerge from Covid-19, we will never have a better opportunity to reverse that long-standing trend,” she said.
Fianna Fáil Senator Eugene Murphy said the new plan would put rural Ireland at the centre of the country’s recovery from the impact of Covid-19.
“This blueprint gives us a great opportunity to harness all the skills and talents of rural communities. Hopefully by placing a major focus on attracting remote workers to rural communities, we can continue to keep people in rural Ireland and make it a great place to live and work,” he said.
Meanwhile, Independent TD Denis Naughten praised the new strategy but questioned whether ‘Dublin decision-makers’ would deliver on it.
“If delivered it will give families a real option of living in their own home in a rural community…the challenge remains those decision-makers in Departments and agencies who will perceive this strategy to be an afterthought rather than a key plank of Government policy to ease the infrastructure and congestion challenges in Dublin and other cities,” he said.
Deputy Naughten added that that there were more than 50,000 vacant houses in the country and that this should be the very first step in helping to ease housing pressure.
‘Our Rural Future’ will be underpinned by the rollout of broadband in rural areas and Deputy Naughten said: “I’ve consistently said we must capitalise on the delivery of high-speed broadband to every home in Ireland. This was never about Netflix but about relocating jobs and reducing transport emissions”.