An Taisce very much welcomes the work being undertaken by the Commission for Economic Development in Rural Areas (CEDRA) and the opportunity to make a submission to its important work.

An Taisce supports the objectives for sustainable rural communities that were developed in both the EU’s Salzburg Declaration (EC, 2003) and Ireland’s first Strategy on Sustainable Development published in 1997, however, the outcomes from current government policy are poor.

Large parts of rural Ireland have lagged behind in terms of relative disadvantage; employment and job creation; and the extent of rural poverty and social isolation. Peripheral regions, especially in the northwest and north midlands, have consistently lost population share and experienced considerable deficits in respect of services, communications and other infrastructure. These trends have become ever more acute following the collapse of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ property bubble and the subsequent fiscal austerity and retrenchment measures which have seen the withdrawal of key services in rural areas.

The establishment of CEDRA is a welcome and timely initiative. This submission sets out An Taisce’s proposals for the creation of a vibrant rural Ireland. Ours is an alternative viewpoint which is put forward in the context of transformative energy and climate challenges of the 21st Century. Our rural natural resources have therefore never been more important and must be sustainably managed for the long-term. Our civilization is wholly dependent on its ecological and social foundations and our economy should function to sustain and enhance human well-being. It is easy to lose sight of this, especially in times of crises.

Rural Ireland is today experiencing the stored-up costs of over half a century of poor policies that facilitated a widely dispersed settlement strategy that has failed to generate a supportive economy and this locked-in legacy will be extremely difficult to unpick. Clear and bold strategic policy choices with a long-term focus will need to be recommended to government.

Any future development policy for rural Ireland cannot be spatially blind. Given the proposals as part of the ‘Putting People First’ local government reform agenda to develop Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies, a significant opportunity exists to rise above the traditional sectoral policy silos, provide joined up cross-sectoral policy delivery and overcome the weak tradition of territorial and spatial focus This new opportunity for greater joined-up government is essential for rural development.

Download the submission here.