The remit of my Department is to help build vibrant, sustainable communities across the country. Achieving this goal requires a mix of policy initiatives and funding schemes to improve both economic development and to address gaps in meeting the social needs in rural areas, including isolated rural areas.
The Action Plan for Rural Development, published in January 2017, represents a significant whole-of-Government approach to addressing identified challenges facing rural Ireland. The Action Plan is fully aligned with the strategic objective set out in the National Planning Framework focused on strengthening our rural economies and communities, and enabling all areas of the country to reach their full potential.
My own Department delivers a range of programmes which promote and support sustainable communities throughout Ireland. For example:
- The Town and Village Renewal Scheme supports the revitalisation of rural towns and villages, with particular focus on projects which have a clear positive economic impact on local communities. In total, almost €53 million has been approved for more than 670 projects across the country under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme since it was introduced in the second half of 2016.
- The CLÁR programme is a targeted investment programme for rural areas which provides funding for small infrastructural projects and other initiatives in areas that have experienced significant levels of population decline. More than 1,250 projects have been approved for total funding of €26.9 million since I relaunched the programme in 2016.
- The €250 million LEADER rural development programme includes a specific pillar focused on social inclusion.
- The Seniors Alert Scheme provides grant assistance towards the purchase and installation of personal monitored alarms for older people to enable them to live securely in their own homes. This is particularly valuable for older people living alone in isolated rural communities.
My Department maintains ongoing contact with stakeholders to identify issues that affect both urban and rural communities.
My Department is also co-hosting a series of seminars on rural issues with the Royal Irish Academy, focusing on the themes of economic development, social inclusion and sustainable rural communities. These seminars will culminate in the publication of a research report on issues impacting rural communities. The first of these seminars took place in Galway in November and will be followed by two further events early in 2019.