“That Dáil Éireann:
— Project Ireland 2040, comprising the National Development Plan (NDP) and the National Planning Framework (NPF) are not underpinned by any democratic mandate or vote, by either House of the Oireachtas, as originally promised by the previous Government;
— in excess of 560 submissions were made to the recent review of the NDP;
— a recent Ernst and Young report has concluded that the delivery of the €116 billion NDP, less than one year in, is under threat and already facing ‘significant challenges due to the fact that many State bodies and Government Departments have a‘fragmented approach and varying capacity challenges’ when it comes to infrastructural delivery;
— the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) research indicates that infrastructural investments have a powerful multiplier effect, which stimulates demand and creates jobs, both directly and indirectly;
— there has been chronic under-investment in infrastructure across rural Ireland, which now jeopardises and undermines the prospects for a post-pandemic recovery in these areas;
— regional and rural development in Ireland has failed, based on numerous key economic and social indicators, coupled with the complete over-dominance of Dublin;
— the NPF has reduced the democratic oversight at local government level as councillors and local communities have been stripped of powers to democratically review and decide upon local and city/county development plans;
— since 1966, Ireland’s population has grown by over two million, with most of this growth within the Greater Dublin Area;
— in accordance with Central Statistics Office data, around 37 per cent of the population live in rural Ireland;
— the Government has failed to provide every citizen with access to broadband, a human right, and indeed declared a basic human right by the United Nations in 2016; and
— Ireland now has an extremely serious digital divide between rural and urban areas with many parts of rural Ireland having no access to broadband, due to a complete failure by successive Governments;
and calls on the Government to:
— show much-needed urgency and fast track the roll-out of the National Broadband Plan across rural Ireland, with a deadline of end 2022 instead of the unacceptable 2027 Government target;
— make access to high-speed broadband a human right now, as it is in all parts of Norway, a country similar to Ireland, as it can be used as a catalyst to bring about improved access to healthcare, education and improved inward investment and job creation to every part of the country;
— prioritise infrastructural development in the regions and rural areas by expediting and prioritising its delivery in order to improve quality of life and allow for balanced regional job creation;
— provide both Houses of the Oireachtas with an immediate opportunity to thoroughly debate Project Ireland 2040 and its associated NDP and NPF elements, following the current review of the NDP, especially in light of the drastically changed economic and social landscapes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic;
— provide both Houses of the Oireachtas with an opportunity to take a democratic vote on Project Ireland 2040, following the above debate, in order to underpin the democratic accountability and legitimacy of the strategies;
— recognise the tremendous opportunities for remote working and rural living highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic and urgently review the draconian planning restrictions on rural one-off housing, contained within the NPF, as it is prohibiting rural people from being able to build a home in their area, which will lead to heightened rural depopulation;
— establish an expert independent unit or agency, with expertise in procurement, project management, value for money delivery, and on time target delivery, to plan, oversee and deliver the much-needed large-scale infrastructural projects across the regions; and
— increase funding to at least €5 billion under the NDP Rural Regeneration and Development Fund which currently has a completely insufficient allocation of €1billion under the NDP.”
I thank the Rural Independent Group for giving me the opportunity to speak first on the motion. On 5 July 2018, a vote on the Project Ireland 2040 plan took place in Dáil Éireann. There were 44 "Tá" votes and 25 "Níl" votes. The "Níl" votes were led by the Rural Independent Group. Where were the other 89 Deputies when a vote was taken on such an important issue for the entire country? Two Deputies in County Limerick voted for the plan and one Deputy was absent. These are the same representatives that knock on the doors before every election and tell us that they are fighting for their county, for rural areas and for infrastructure. These are the same 89 Deputies that did not turn up here to vote on 5 July 2018 for such an important plan, Project Ireland 2040.
Is the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, aware that 37% of the population of this country live in rural areas? We have a Cabinet in the Thirty-third Dáil which is heavily weighted towards urban living with 60% of its members from urban constituencies, 20% of the Cabinet are from large towns such as Bray and Greystones, which again is Dublin-centred and just under 20% of Cabinet members are from a rural background. That is not equality even within the Cabinet.
We now have a Minister for Transport who in 2019 stated on live television that 30 cars are adequate for 300 families in towns and villages around the country. This is the same Minister who, when the country is on its knees during a pandemic, told us to set our greens on the south-facing windows. This is a person who is supposed to be representing Ireland. He has the mentality to tell me that 30 cars are enough for up to 300 families in large towns and villages. Each house in villages, towns and rural areas has a minimum of three cars because of the failure of the Government and of previous Governments to invest in infrastructure outside of Dublin. We have these cars to bring students to school and so that parents can go to work. We pay car tax, insurance and tax on fuel and emissions. We have no connection to Shannon Airport, that is if we ever fly again.
There are rail links from Limerick city centre to Dublin or Cork. There are no railway links to Galway, Waterford, Kerry or any other county outside Limerick. There is no adequate bus service for any of our towns and villages.
I need to stress that basic infrastructure must be provided in rural towns and villages. In Ireland, each village and town can progress with potential. This makes sense. Money should be put into sewerage and water systems in Askeaton, Dromcolliher, Hospital, Oola, and Banoge. This is economics.
This week, the Rural Development Policy 2021-2025 - Our Rural Future, was published. It is filled with words like "publish", "engage", "support", "explore", "continue" etc. These words do not refer to concrete proposals. There is lack of targets, details and exact implementation steps. It is a rehash of what I have listened to for the past 30 years.
Members should note there has been chronic under-investment in infrastructure across rural Ireland, which is now jeopardising the prospect of a post-pandemic recovery in rural areas. There should be water schemes in Kilfinane, Ardpatrick, Newcastle West, Abbeyfeale, Fedamore, Oola and Pallas Green. I have stated in other debates that 73% of the towns and villages in County Limerick have inadequate sewerage. Moreover, 60% of the towns and villages in Limerick have inadequate water. These statistics are mirrored across all other counties outside of Dublin. I want town and village renewal to happen. I want proper connectivity for our citizens. These are basic human rights.
There is a serious digital divide between rural and urban areas due to the failure of successive Governments. What is proposed in the 2040 plan? Did the Minister know that if any of our rural sons and daughters want to live in rural Ireland, the 2040 plan does not cover that? One may be fooled into thinking that if one is the son or daughter of a farmer, one can build on a farm. That is not so. Only people who own or are in a partnership on a farm can do so. This is the case even though, due to a lack of infrastructure, people in rural areas pay up to €10,000 per house to install modern sewerage systems in order that they can live in rural areas. This is because of the failure of Governments and a lack of infrastructure over the past 30 years.
Is it known that the Government has proposed that schools comprising fewer than 90 pupils should close and amalgamate with other schools in neighbouring parishes? The 2040 plan proposes that this should happen. We are losing our parish status. One can imagine the impact of that on GAA, camogie, soccer and rugby clubs in rural areas.
We need to be able to protect our hardware stores. Did the Minister know that 60% of business for local hardware shops in County Limerick, such as General Hardware, Tadhg O'Connor Hardware and Cahill's Homevalue Hardware in Kilmallock, comes from one-off houses and 40% of their business comes from the maintenance and renovation of properties in the local areas?
New primary and secondary schools have been built in towns and villages where no local employment was provided. All of the materials were sourced outside of the area. We need to make sure that if any infrastructure is being built that the funding goes to local areas and communities. A law should be put in place that companies have to employ people locally.
I looked up the investment programme tracker. The MetroLink in Dublin has been allocated €1 billion. The Luas cross city project has been allocated €500 million. The children's hospital has been allocated €1 billion. The greater Dublin drainage scheme has been allocated €1 billion. Ringaskiddy water treatment has been allocated €1 billion. For 2025, Dublin will put €4.5 billion into Dublin. There are 25 other counties in Ireland.
We ask every engineer, architect, local authority and councillors from all parties to stand with rural independents and take on the Government. Let us challenge this legally. It is a basic human right for anyone from a county to live in that county, whether rural or otherwise.