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Rural Ireland, the Regions and Communities must not be left behind

Investment in the regions is vital to a balanced and fair post-Covid recovery.  Rural Ireland faces many challenges, including an older population, higher rates of part-time employment, lower median incomes, distance from everyday services and higher poverty rates than the national average.  In addition new challenges have emerged, the impact of Brexit, digitisation and a potentially prolonged period of unemployment on areas that were already struggling. 

Rural and regional economies

There is a need to consider the sustainability of some of the employment across Ireland.  In some regions many of the jobs currently available will be transformed or indeed made redundant in the medium term either by disruptive technology or by the need to adapt to a low carbon economy.  Regions dependent on tourism face an uncertain future. 

Social Justice Ireland proposes the establishment of a regional development and transition programme. This programme would have the task of  aligning ‘Our Rural Future’, Regional employment plans, Future Jobs Ireland, the Climate Action Plan and the Economic Recovery Plan 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 2022.  This funding should be used to invest in (i) Smart Villages 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, and (iv) improving and expanding public services to promote  and support rural living. 

In addition, 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.  We also propose an additional €25m for Fáilte Ireland to promote local and regional tourism initiatives. 

Rural Transport

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 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 cycling and walking infrastructure. 

Broadband

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

Community and Voluntary Sector

Whilst Social Justice Ireland welcomes the Covid-19 related funding received by the Community and Voluntary sector, the funding challenges faced by the sector since 2008 have never been resolved and will be further exacerbated by the current crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic saw extra demands placed upon the sector coupled with a loss of fundraising. It is  essential that Government resource this sector into the future and that it remains committed to the principle of providing multi-annual statutory funding. 

Social Justice Ireland proposes an increase of €30m to the Community and Voluntary sector to ensure the continuation of the provision of key supports and services in our communities. 

Public Participation Networks (PPNs)

The PPNs are the primary mechanism for Local Authority engagement with communities. While this is an important step in fostering a more democratic local government structure, there is some way to go to build real participation and partnership in local government decision-making.   Investment in community engagement is needed to support capacity building and the establishment of local dialogue forums to support participation in the development of the Local Economic and Community Plans, and the Local Authority budgets. To this end, an additional allocation of €2 million should be made in Budget 2022 to support capacity building and meaningful participation at local level.

Local Authority Participation Structures Review

Investment in community engagement across Local Authorities is needed to ensure that the participative structures set up, such as Strategic Policy Committees, Local Community Development Committees and so on, are fit for purpose. Without this, structures such as the PPNs cannot fully deliver on their mandate. 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.

Social Enterprises and Deficit Demand

There is a diverse range of organisations within the social enterprise arena, ranging from those responding to ‘deficit demand’, particularly in under-represented and disadvantaged areas, to social entrepreneurs whose business model is most closely aligned to the commercial sector.

Budget 2022 should allocate €1.5m towards resourcing the National Social Enterprise Strategy, aimed particularly at those social enterprises meeting deficit demand.

Community Development Programmes

Government must increase funding allocations to LEADER (the funding programme to support the social and economic development of areas) and SICAP (the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme) to support the development of local communities with an additional allocation of €2m in Budget 2021.

Read the full text of our Budget Choices 2022 Policy Briefing - Delivering a Fair Recovery - HERE.