Last Thursday (28 January 2016) the outgoing Government launched their Charter for Rural Ireland in Banagher, Co Offaly. The presence of the Taoiseach and two Ministers lent some weight to the occasion, but what is in the Charter itself?
It is a relatively short and simple document, with much reference to existing programmes such as the Rural Development Programme and the role of LCDCs (Local and Community Development Committees).
The Charter commits to a wide-ranging Rural Development Policy Framework to be developed by the end of 2016. This process will include a National Rural Development Forum to be held in early 2016.
Perhaps the most important commitment is the new mandatory system of assessment of Government policies. This will ensure all future Government policies are designed with full ant stated consideration of their impact on Rural Ireland. The Government also commits to review all current, relevant, national policy frameworks in the same context, with a view to their amendment if necessary. This is a return of what used to be called “rural proofing” and is very welcome.
Muintir na Tíre, and Save Rural Ireland, have been calling for some time for a Government policy on Rural Ireland. We envisaged this including a vision of future Rural Ireland – what it would be like to live and work in, what essential services would be required for this, and what baseline commitment would be given on the provision of these services.
The new charter does not go that far, but it does commit to pursing that goal in 2016. Of course one must question why this charter was launched in the last week of the Government’s term and whether it will ever be implemented. We have asked the Government parties to commit to including this Charter in their programme for Government should either or both of them form a part of the next Government. We have also asked the other major parties for their support of the Charter or their counter proposals. To amend a phrase from a previous political era – “some done, much to do”.
You can read the full Charter For Rural Ireland here.