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A regional recovery in Budget 2022 needs targeted resources

The future of rural Ireland is under threat as it tries to deal with the consequences of Brexit, COVID-19, and our climate crisis.  How Ireland ensures rural areas and regions are supported to meet these challenges and how we transition to a more sustainable society will determine what kind of rural communities we will have in Ireland twenty years from now.

Ambition and investment required

Budget 2022 is an opportunity for Government to deliver on the ambition of ‘Our Rural Future’ and make available the necessary resources to ensure the strategy is a success.  Towns and villages across the regions face many challenges, some of which pre-date the pandemic.  These include an older population in comparison with urban areas, higher rates of part-time employment, lower median incomes, and greater distance from everyday services.  In addition, new challenges have emerged, the impact of Covid-19, the ongoing fallout from Brexit, and the impact of digitisation and on employment in areas that were already struggling.  Remote working presents an opportunity to reinvigorate rural communities, but in order for Government strategies ‘Our Rural Future’ and ‘Making Remote Work’ to be successful, the supporting infrastructure must be put in place.

Regional Recovery and Budget 2022: Summary of Social Justice Ireland’s key proposals

Public Services

  • An additional €50m to the Rural Transport Programme.
  • An initial investment of €10m in our cycling and walking infrastructure.
  • €1.5m towards resourcing the National Social Enterprise Strategy, aimed particularly at those social enterprises meeting deficit demand.
  • A commitment to embed a rural proofing model based on the equivalence principles in the revised National Development Plan.  

Broadband

  • A €200m investment to rollout the network of 400 Remote Working Hubs, supporting infrastructure and shared services, of which €5m should be ringfenced for upgrade existing remote working hubs and meeting our Digital Agenda for Europe targets. 

Regional Economic Development

  • Allocate €100m to Regional Development and Transition in Budget 2022.  This funding should be used to invest in:
    • Smart Villages to support remote working;
    • education for the current and future generation of farmers to move to more sustainable agricultural methods;
    • developing local cooperatives and regional ‘Farm to Fork’ strategies:
    • improving and expanding public services to promote and support rural living. 
  • An additional €25m to Enterprise Ireland to develop and support indigenous enterprises and job creation across the regions, particularly those areas most impacted by Covid-19 and those who will be most impacted by Brexit.
  • An additional €25m for Fáilte Ireland to promote local and regional tourism initiatives. 

Sustainable Communities

  • Align regional investment with a Just Transition Strategy. One of the fundamental principles of a Just Transition is to leave no people, communities, economic sectors or regions behind as we transition to a low carbon future. Social investment in areas such as integrated social protection systems, education, training and lifelong learning, childcare, out of school care, health care must be a core priority to support those people, communities, sectors and regions who will be most impacted as we transform how our economy and society operates.
  • Develop and resource an ongoing place-based dialogue with a diversity of stakeholders could ensure that rural areas and regions are well placed to meet the challenges of adapting to transition and the changing world of work.

Capacity Building

  • An increased investment of €30m in the Community and Voluntary sector to ensure the continuation of the provision of key supports and services in our communities. 
  • Investment in community engagement is needed to support capacity building.  An additional allocation of €2 million to Public Participation Networks should be made in Budget 2022 to support capacity building and meaningful participation at local level.
  • Investment in community engagement across Local Authorities is also required. Budget 2022 should include an allocation of €2m for the review of Local Authority participation structures and to begin the delivery of training and supports.

Skills Development

  • An additional €40m investment in Further Education and Training to develop and expand apprenticeships and traineeships to meet future skills needs and advance the circular economy, particularly at a regional and community level. 
  • A €10m investment in a Transition Skills Fund targeted at young people not engaged in education or training (NEETs) and people employed in sectors whose jobs are at high risk of automation.
  • An investment of €10m in Budget 2022 to expand the Human Capital Initiative and improve lifelong learning across all cohorts of the population.
  • An additional investment of €1.5m in Community Education.

Just Transition

  • Invest €2m to establish a network of community energy advisors to engage with and inform people and households in energy poverty and hard-to-reach energy users as a national retrofitting programme is rolled out.  This would ensure that these households who have the greatest energy needs are a priority as we transition to renewable energy sources and reduce our emissions. 
  • Invest €10m in Budget 2022 to begin the rollout of the Circular Economy Strategy concentrating on areas such as sustainable agriculture, bio-economy, and recognition of the interconnectivity between the economy, environment and society.
  • Budget 2022 should invest €10m in the National Parks and Wildlife Service and in the National Biodiversity Centre.

Download our briefing ‘Regional Recovery and Budget 2022’ here.