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Realising our Rural Potential: Government launches the Action Plan for Rural Development

An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, and the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys TD, are this afternoon (Monday) launching Realising our Rural Potential: The Action Plan for Rural Development. The Action Plan is the first ever whole-of-government strategy aimed at delivering real change for people living and working in rural Ireland.

Reflecting the cross-Government approach to rural development, also speaking at today's launch are Minister of State for Regional Economic Development, Michael Ring TD, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten TD, and Minister of State for the OPW, Sean Canney TD.

The objective of the Action Plan for Rural Development is to unlock the potential of rural Ireland through a framework of supports at national and local level which will ensure that people who live in rural areas have increased opportunities for employment locally, and access to public services and social networks that support a high quality of life.

The Action Plan will act as an overarching structure for the co-ordination and implementation of initiatives right across Government which will benefit rural Ireland. It is the first plan of its kind to take a cohesive and coordinated approach across the whole of Government to the implementation of both economic and social policies that impact on rural communities. The Action Plan was prepared following a consultation process which included engagement with all Government Departments, meetings with key rural representative bodies and a series of regional workshops.

The Plan contains 276 actions across five key pillars, all of which aim to improve both the economic and social fabric of rural Ireland. The five pillars are:

· Supporting Sustainable Communities
· Supporting Enterprise and Employment
· Maximising our Rural Tourism and Recreation Potential
· Fostering Culture and Creativity in Rural Communities
· Improving Rural Infrastructure and Connectivity

Key actions under the Plan include:

· Supporting the creation of 135,000 new jobs in rural Ireland by 2020 by assisting indigenous businesses, investing €50m for collaborative approaches to job creation in the regions, and increasing Foreign Direct Investment in regional areas by up to 40%.
· Implementing a range of initiatives to rejuvenate over 600 rural and regional towns.
· Introducing a new pilot scheme to encourage residential occupancy in town and village centres.
· Assisting over 4,000 projects in rural communities to boost economic development, tackle social exclusion and provide services to people living in remote areas.
· Increasing the number of visitors to rural Ireland by 12% in the next three years through targeted tourism initiatives, including increased promotion of Activity Tourism.
· Accelerating the preparation for the rollout of high-speed broadband and ensuring that all homes and businesses in rural Ireland are connected to broadband as early as possible.
· Increasing capital funding for flood risk schemes up to €80m per annum by 2019 and increasing to €100m per annum by 2021
· Improving job opportunities for young people in rural areas by increasing the number of apprenticeships and traineeships available locally.
· Developing an Atlantic Economic Corridor to drive jobs and investment along the Western seaboard and contribute to more balanced regional development.
· Investing over €50 million in sports, recreation and cultural facilities throughout the country, including in rural areas.
· Protecting vital services in rural Ireland by improving rural transport provision, enhancing rural GP services and protecting rural schools.
· Introducing a range of measures to boost job creation in the Gaeltacht, including the creation of 1,500 new jobs in Údarás na Gaeltachta client companies by 2020 and the development of Innovation Hubs in the Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Kerry Gaeltacht regions to support entrepreneurship.
· Combating rural isolation by improving connectivity and enhancing supports for older people, including significant investment in the Senior Alert scheme.
· Building safer communities by providing a more visible, effective and responsive police service in rural areas through the recruitment of 3,200 new Garda members over the next four years to reach a strength of 15,000 members, and by introducing a new community CCTV Grant Aid Scheme.
· Examining the scope for increased investment in regional roads in the context of the review of the Capital Investment Plan 2016-2021
· Assessing and improving rural transport routes and developing new routes where necessary
· Delivering 18 new primary care centres in rural Ireland by end of 2018
· Investing €435m in 90 public nursing facilities and district and community hospitals in rural Ireland, up to 2021, creating up to 5,000 jobs during the construction phase
· Improving societal cohesion and wellbeing in rural communities by supporting cultural and artistic provision and participation.

Speaking today, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D. said:
"The development and revitalisation of rural Ireland is a key priority in the Programme for a Partnership Government. We can do more and do better to drive the creative spirit of rural Ireland for the benefit of everybody, young and old alike. This is the aim of our Action Plan for Rural Development, to unlock both the economic and social potential of rural Ireland. We will ensure that local communities have increased opportunities for jobs, and access to public services and social networks that support a high quality of life.

“I Chair a Cabinet Committee on Rural Ireland, where I will be pushing all Government Ministers to deliver initiatives under their individual portfolios which will have a positive impact on rural Ireland. We want to ensure that no community is left behind as we take on the causes of disadvantage. This Plan will unlock the potential of rural communities nationwide and deliver the best possible results for our people.”

Speaking at the launch Minister Humphreys said:
"I believe passionately in rural communities and as someone who has lived and worked in rural Ireland throughout my life, I have seen, first-hand, the commitment and determination of rural communities to succeed. Through this Action Plan, I want to empower rural communities to realise their full potential. This is the first time that a cross Government plan, with targeted actions, has been produced to positively impact on rural communities. There is no quick fix for the challenges facing rural Ireland. Instead what we need is a co-ordinated and targeted approach to deliver for rural communities.

“There has been significant progress in recent years; we know the fastest jobs growth has been outside Dublin and investment in the regions is increasing. We now want to build on that progress by revitalising our rural towns and villages, boosting visitor numbers to rural areas, encouraging more regional development and providing better services. While it is very important to deliver economic progress, I think it is equally important to encourage cultural activity, which adds hugely to the energy and vitality of rural areas. That is why this Action Plan also focuses on fostering culture and creativity, which will ultimately lead to happier, healthier and more prosperous rural communities.”

Minister Humphreys has also announced the launch of a new website which will act as a hub for information on services and supports for rural dwellers.