The Government this week announced details of its plans to rejuvenate rural Ireland in the post-COVID years. The ambitious five-year plan called ‘Our Rural Future’ outlines a series of ideas and programs which will underpin rural recovery.
he fine detail of the plan offers a consortium of policy from Government submissions under the National Development Plan, aimed at lifting rural areas and making them economically and socially viable.
‘Our Rural Future’ is cited as an ‘unprecedented opportunity’ for rural development, with a core emphasis on key aspects such as enhancing infrastructure and service utilities in villages and towns, with a view to making them more attractive for workers to return home, or for people considering relocating to rural areas.
The Government is hedging most of its strategy on developing ‘Remote Working’, which it plans to coincide with the roll-out of high-speed Broadband. It says this will bring new opportunities in areas such as e-Health, remote learning, and in trading online and the creation of new technologies.
The plan is being met with cautious optimism in Kerry, however, as many feel the infrastructure of towns and villages is ill-equipped to cater for more people.
Our Rural Future hopes to regenerate town centres through remote working and the building of rural jobs with technology a driving force. Taxation incentives for rural businesses are a feature of the plan, which Government hopes will make working in rural locations more attractive.
Kerry has taken a major hit to its tourism market since the outbreak of COVID-19. The now-familiar way of life that is ‘physical distancing’ collapsed the tourist economy, as highlighted by a series of economic surveys in 2020 that estimated a loss of €400 million to Kerry’s economy.
Building sustainability around adventure tourism and the ‘green economy’ is expected to be a prime factor in getting rural Kerry back on a positive footing once society and economy begins to show signs of returning to normal.
Our Rural Future is supported by 150 commitments across Government, with a commitment to funding being earmarked for rural road development, and town and village streetscapes.
Cllr John Francis Flynn (Fianna Fáil) has welcomed what he calls ‘the essence’ of the plan, saying that people in rural Ireland have been requesting for years a less centralised view of Ireland.
But while the plan provides a foundation for this, more detail around health and housing from a Kerry context needs to be forthcoming.
“The evidence is already there, a lot of our villages and towns have difficulties with planning and inadequate sewage systems,” Cllr Flynn said.
“The Minister did mention that these problems would have to be brought up to standard, that would be very welcome,” he added.
Another area of concern, according to Cllr Flynn, is access to healthcare. If Kerry is to increase its rural population, then GP and hospital access must improve from a scenario likely to be exacerbated by the backlog in treatment once the pandemic has passed.
“I don’t see anything about health in the plan which is very important,” he said.
“If you are going to be welcoming more people into Kerry to live, you need the services there for them. It’s all right to put broadband and work first, but if a person gets sick, we must be able to treat them as well,” Cllr Flynn said.