The Action Plan for Rural Development was published in January 2017 as a whole-of-Government initiative to support the economic and social progress of rural Ireland.
The coordinated approach of the Action Plan is achieving benefits in terms of increased employment in the regions and increased investment in projects and communities across the country. Since 2015, there has been an increase of over 146,000 in the number of people employed in regions outside of Dublin, surpassing the Government’s target of 135,000 extra jobs by 2020.
The level of investment being made in rural Ireland is also unprecedented. Thousands of projects have been supported by my Department alone since the start of 2017, with further investment across Government also benefitting rural communities in areas such as agriculture, fisheries, tourism and transport. The Rural Regeneration and Development Fund, which was launched last year, will provide €1 billion for rural development over the period 2019-2027.
Progress Reports on the implementation of the Action Plan for Rural Development are published twice a year on my Department’s website, www.drcd.gov.ie. The Third Progress Report was published in November 2018 and outlined the progress which took place between January and June 2018. Of the 275 actions reported on, 266 had been completed or were substantially advanced. The Fourth Progress Report, focusing on activity between July and December 2018, was approved on 22 May by the Monitoring Committee which oversees the Action Plan, and will be published in the coming weeks.
The Action Plan for Rural Development includes a commitment to developing a pilot scheme to encourage increased residential occupancy in rural towns and villages. In October 2018, I announced that six rural towns (Boyle in Co. Roscommon, Callan in Co. Kilkenny, Ballinrobe in Co. Mayo, Banagher in Co. Offaly, Castleblayney in Co. Monaghan, Cappoquin in Co. Waterford) would participate in the pilot scheme.
Funding of up to €100,000 is being made available to each of the towns to develop proposals to encourage town centre living. This funding will be used by the Local Authorities to engage with communities and local businesses, and identify practical solutions to increase the number of people living in their towns.
I am expecting to receive a report from each of the relevant Local Authorities next month on the progress they have made. It is envisaged that the solutions identified through this pilot could lead to the development of more substantive proposals for funding from the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund in due course.