Rural and regional economies
Rural and regional economies are not alone in facing the challenges of climate mitigation and digital transition. Targeted support is required to build regional resilience. Climate adaptation and digitalisation present both challenges and opportunities to rural economies. They must be supported through investment in social infrastructure to ensure they can take full advantage of any opportunities and negative impacts are mitigated in so far as possible. Social Justice Ireland proposes the establishment of a regional development and transition programme. This programme would have the task of aligning ‘Our Rural Future’, ‘Our Living Islands’, Regional employment plans, ‘Making Remote Work’, the ‘Climate Action Plan’ and economic policies with the principles of just transition and developing sustainable local economies and livelihoods for our communities.
€100m should be allocated to Regional Development and Transition in Budget 2024. This funding should be used to invest in (i) Smart Villages and associated infrastructure to support remote working; (ii) education for the current and future generation of farmers to move to more sustainable agricultural methods; (iii) developing local cooperatives and regional ‘Farm to Fork’ strategies; (iv) improving and expanding public services to promote and support rural living; (v) a €5m allocation to support the deliver of three rural proofing pilots planned by Government in 2024 and (vi) the development and expansion of Living Labs in each region
focused on plastics, renewables, zero carbon buildings and agro-ecology.
An additional €25m to Enterprise Ireland to develop and support indigenous enterprises and job creation across the regions, particularly those areas with employment which will be most impacted by the green and digital transitions. We also propose an additional €25m for Fáilte Ireland to promote island, local and regional tourism initiatives.
Strategies and plans to promote rural and regional economies are heavily reliant on the provision of reliable, quality, high-speed broadband. Social Justice Ireland proposes a €200m investment to support continued rollout and development of the Remote Working Hubs network and associated infrastructure and shared services, of which €5m should be ringfenced for upgrading existing remote working hubs and meeting our Digital Agenda for Europe targets.
Increased funding is required for rural public transport and the nationwide expansion of cycling infrastructure and greenways. Social Justice Ireland calls on Government to invest an additional €50m to the Rural Transport Programme, increasing the range of public transport options, including last mile transport and ensuring the rural public transport options and fleet are in line with our climate commitments, safe-guarding communities from isolation, and incentivising greater public transport usage. In addition we propose an initial investment of €10m in our active transport and cycling and walking infrastructure. This would support local tourism initiatives, and also offer rural dwellers viable transport options to get to and from daily employment and other activities.
Budget Choices 2024 is available to download here.