03/04/17

Speech by Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Humphreys Humphreys TD, at the launch of the CIF report on Regional Development, Tullamore Dew Distillery, Monday April 3rd 2017

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Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

It is a pleasure to be here today in this superb facility for the launch of the CIF’s report on Regional Development and to talk about the work being undertaken by the Government to ensure our that rural and regional areas benefit as the economy continues to grow and expand.

Indeed, I welcome the opportunity to outline the work I am undertaking, along with my colleague Minister of State Michael Ring, to help support sustainable regional development.

As you will be aware, when the Government was formed last May, the Taoiseach gave me additional responsibilities in relation to rural and regional development.

In particular, he charged with me with task of putting together an Action Plan for Rural Development, which would co-ordinate work right across Government aimed at revitalising rural communities.

As someone who has lived and worked in rural for most of my life, it was a challenge which I relished.

The Action Plan was published in late January and it represents a whole of Government approach to rural development.

Through the Action Plan, the Government is taking a comprehensive approach to rural development – from supporting the creation of jobs and enterprise right through to fostering culture and creativity in rural communities.

This Plan is about creating vibrant and sustainable communities where people can live, work and raise their families.

It is not about telling local communities what to do, rather it is about empowering local communities and enabling them to focus on their individual strengths.

The Action Plan includes a number of key targets, for example:

  • We want to support the creation of 135,000 jobs outside Dublin by 2020
  • We are aiming to boost rural tourism by 12% in the next three years
  • My Department will invest in the revitalisation of at least 600 towns and villages

The plan includes more than 270 actions across all Government Departments, all aimed at supporting regional and rural development.

It is the first time that we have had a co-ordinated plan, with time bound targets, which aims to directly benefit rural communities.

No longer is rural development seen as the responsibility of one department – the action plan format recognises that all departments must be pulling their weight if we are to make a real impact.

I have already convened the first meeting of the Monitoring Committee for the Action Plan which will oversee implementation and report directly to the Cabinet Committee, chaired by the Taoiseach.

I welcome the fact that a number of the recommendations in the report being launched today dovetail with the aims of the Government’s Rural Action Plan.

For example, your report calls for the continuation of the Better Energy Homes Scheme, the awarding of the contract for the National Broadband Plan and the continued development of key tourism assets such as our greenways.

I also welcome the specific focus that your report places on the importance of investing in rural towns and villages.

This is an approach that I am particularly keen on.

Indeed, I believe it is essential that we help our rural towns and villages to prosper if we want to ensure more balanced regional development.

Towns and villages are essential hubs of economic activity and in turn support their hinterlands and wider populations.

Your report supports a number of specific measures to restore town centres, such as the Living City Initiative and the renewal of residential accommodation above retail units.

My Department is currently working on the details of a pilot scheme to encourage people to take up residential occupancy in rural towns and villages.

I believe that if we want to breathe life back in our rural towns and villages, we need to bring the people back into town centres.

There are significant opportunities to incentivise people to renovate centre of town properties for residential use.

Your report also emphasises the importance of broadband to rural areas, which is something I am acutely aware of.

My own Department and Denis Naughten’s Department are working closely together to pave the way for the rollout of this vital resource in rural Ireland.

We are taking all steps necessary to ensure that rural communities are best positioned to capitalise on full access to the digital environment.

While Minister Naughten is managing the procurement process for the National Broadband Plan, my officials are working closely with Local Authorities to ensure they are ready for roll out once the contract is signed.

For example, my Department has supported the appointment of a broadband officer in every local authority, who will now work with both the winners of the State contract and the other commercial providers.

We are also helping to upskill up to 30,000 people in rural communities who have never used the internet so they can fully avail of the service when it is rolled out.

It is my hope that the initiatives contained in the Action Plan for Rural Development will have a significant and lasting impact on rural communities.

It will not solve all of our problems, but it will provide a framework to deliver real change.

It is important to add that the Rural Action Plan fits within the overall strategy of the National Planning Framework, which is currently being developed by the Government to success the National Spatial Strategy.

It will provide a framework for national planning, pulling together relevant Government policies and investment on national and regional development up to 2040.

It will have a focus on economic development and investment in housing, water services, transport, communications, energy, health and education infrastructure, all of which are covered in the document being launched by the CIF today.

The CIF Regional Development report calls for increased capital investment, including the completion of a number of significant road projects.

The Government will publish the Mid Term Capital Review later this year, which will include a range of capital funding commitments.

But of course, increased investment in infrastructure and indeed in other essential services will only be possible if the prudent management of the economy continues.

In face of Brexit and other international uncertainties, the Government is determined to continue to implement jobs friendly policies, which will allow us to invest more in services and help support a better standard of living for our people.

As Minister with responsibility for Rural Affairs, I am trying to visit as many rural communities as possible, so I am delighted to be here in Tullamore today, not just to outline the Government priorities for rural development, but I am also looking forward to getting a tour of this fine facility.

Thank you for the invitation to be here and indeed thank you for your warm reception.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh.

Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, 23 Kildare Street, Dublin , D02 TD30. Tel: 01 631 3800 / LoCall: 1890 383 000

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