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4. Strategic Policy Framework

The Government's commitment to sustainable rural development and the maintenance of viable rural communities, as expressed in the vision statement, is based on achieving demographic viability. This will be pursued through

  • economic development supported by service and infrastructure provision to ensure optimal use of resources for the benefit of the rural community while protecting the environment, and
  • social policy to address disadvantage and social inclusion needs in a sustained manner.

The Government undertakes to implement a strategy for rural development which is based on the following principles-

(a) an inclusive approach to sustainable development, breaking persistent patterns of disadvantage; achieving equality in terms of access, opportunity and outcome between rural and urban communities and between different communities within rural areas; targeting resources towards people most in need within rural communities;

(b) an integrated multi-dimensional approach to policies for economic and social development and co-ordination of the 'top-down' and 'bottom-up' approaches;

(c) a concept of rural development which recognises regional and local variations and takes account of their spatial and other distinctive features;

(d) the maximum use of, here necessary, the establishment of, participative institutional arrangements at local, regional and national levels to guide policy formation and implementation; the active involvement of the rural community - those who are the targets of policy, including the poor and socially excluded - as partners in the planning and decision making processes.

As an over-riding general principle, the Government is committed to the "rural proofing" of all national policies so as to ensure that policy makers are aware of the likely impact of policy proposals on the economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being of rural communities.

Policy proofing in the broad sense provides the mechanism by which policies are assessed at design and review stages for their impact on areas of concern. Poverty proofing has been introduced on a pilot basis as part of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy and is currently being operated by Government Departments. Procedures for developing equality proofing are being designed at present in consultation with the social partners. The introduction of rural proofing as a mechanism for ensuring that policies are examined for their impact on rural communities will, over time, represent a critical element of the Government's commitment to the development of rural areas.

Integration of Existing Measures
As rural areas evolve in a period of significant economic, social and cultural change, isolated responses to particular problems or attempts to modify the undesirable effects of past or current policies will not in themselves address development needs and priorities. Objectives for economic and social development must be set and matched with integrated policy responses to achieve them.

In many cases, policies are already in place to address current and future needs. In recent years the Government has brought forward important policy initiatives for economic and social development, the most notable in the current context being

  • the Forfás Strategy on Enterprise in the 21st Century, (1996),
  • Sustainable Development; A Strategy for Ireland, (1997),
  • the Programme for Local Government Renewal,
  • Sharing in Progress, The National Anti-Poverty Strategy, (1997),
  • Information Society Ireland, Strategy for Action, (1996),
  • A Government Strategy for Services, (1997),
  • Operational Programme for Agriculture, Rural Development and Forestry, 1994-1999,
  • the Operational Programme for Local, Urban and Rural Development, 1994-1999,
  • the Operational Programme for the implementation of the EU Community Initiative LEADER 11 in Ireland, 1994-1999,
  • the Strategic Plan for the Development of the Forestry Sector in Ireland (1996), and
  • the Task Force Report on the Integration of the Local Government and Local Development Systems, (1998).

Rural communities have evolving needs and priorities which may require new initiatives where these cannot be adequately catered for within existing policies or programmes. The need is not, therefore, in all cases, for the design of new policies for rural areas but rather to ensure

  • a rural dimension, where necessary or appropriate, to existing policies to meet specific rural conditions,
  • a more integrated overall framework in which constituent policy contributions combine effectively, rather than in a fragmented sectoral manner, and
  • a strong, sustained and integrated focus on disadvantage.

Ensuring Competitiveness and Equity
In practical terms, the achievement of population and settlement pattern goals for rural areas is dependent on the exploitation of their potential for economic development and the provision of employment and income generating opportunities.

Policy must recognise the importance of agriculture as the traditional strength of the rural economy but also the need to secure maximum economic diversification. Economic development is dependent on modern infrastructure and service provision in order to enable rural areas to be competitive and sustainable. The provision of adequate services and infrastructure is critical also to ensuring rural areas are attractive places in which to live and work.

Balanced Rural and Urban Development
Recent experience confirms that the emergence of a healthy urban economy can, in many cases, result in a declining rural economy. However, the implementation of a coherent strategy for economic and social development which is supported by service and infrastructure provision will, inevitably, require the pursuit of policies which reflect the needs of rural areas and, within rural areas, those most in need. The Government is committed, therefore, in considering investment in enterprise, infrastructure and public service provision in support of the strategy for balanced regional development, to taking account of location and disadvantage and the need for equity and social justice. The recently announced Town Renewal Scheme will further contribute to regional development by promoting more sustainable development patterns in the smaller towns particularly through consolidating and reducing ribbon development.

Main Elements of Strategic Framework
The Government has decided that the elements of a strategy for rural development which reflect the national interest in rural communities and which is informed by a general understanding of current trends, are as follows

  • the establishment of a dedicated focus on rural development policy in the form of institutional mechanisms to implement a strategy and ensure that the Government commitments contained in the White Paper are translated into effective action; in particular, the designation of a 'lead' Department which will have responsibility for rural development policy into the future,
  • regional development aimed at sustaining a balanced population through a settlement pattern of a network of urban centres acting as hubs for economic and social development, interacting with, and sustaining, dispersed rural communities in towns, villages and the countryside in their hinterlands,
  • service and infrastructure provision to support the objective of viable rural communities and to ensure that rural areas are competitive for investment,
  • sustainable economic development in terms of exploiting indigenous potential and attracting inward investment in order to support enterprise and generate income and employment opportunities,
  • the development of human resources through education and training and support for community development, and
  • addressing poverty and social exclusion.
The Government is committed to the implementation of the strategy on the basis of respect for, and the preservation of, the culture and heritage of rural areas and protection of the environment.