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5. Policy Focus: Institutional Arrangements

The success of the Government's strategy for rural development depends crucially on the extent to which institutional arrangements provide overall direction, coherence and support for implementation of the constituent elements of the strategy. Most Government Departments and State Agencies will continue to have responsibilities in relation to policies which impact on rural areas.

The Government is committed to establishing forward-looking, effective and accountable structures at national, regional and local levels tha t

  • can respond on an on-going basis to policy formulation for multi- dimensional economic and social development,
  • facilitate regional development and provide effective horizontal and vertical co-ordination between 'top-down ' and 'bottom-up' policies at national, regional and local levels, and
  • incorporate fully the principles of inclusion, equity and partnership in representative and participative structures; all structures within the rural development framework must develop policy making processes that allow for the participation of organisations that articulate the interests of the communities which they serve, particularly those groups and communities which are experiencing social exclusion.

Given the number of institutions implementing rural development strategies, the Government's aim is not to create further structures which might contribute to overlap or duplication of effort. The intention is, rather, to integrate and co-ordinate better the activities of existing structures and to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of public service delivery to rural communities. The following institutional arrangements will apply:-

  • Lead Department In order to provide a central focus and drive for rural development policy, identify appropriate targets in relation to the commitments made by Government and ensure that the strategy for the development of rural areas in the White Paper is translated into effective action, the Department of Agriculture and Food is designated by the Government as the 'lead' Department for rural development policy matters. The term "Rural Development" will be added to the title of the Department. In addition to providing direct representation at Government level, through the Minister, for the rural development policy agenda, this arrangement will ensure an on-going policy focus for rural development and social inclusion needs in rural areas. It will ensure also a consistent and coherent interaction with the EU, reflecting the situation where rural development is recognised as the second 'pillar' of the CAP and where a single Commissioner has responsibility for agriculture and rural development. The 'lead' Department will provide a dedicated resource to implement the strategy outlined in the White Paper and will develop and promote a coherent and comprehensive approach to rural development into the future. The Department will aim to ensure a co-ordinated approach across Departments to cross-cutting issues in the context of the Strategic Management Initiative in the public service and will establish the necessary linkages with regional and local structures in the development process.
  • Cabinet Sub-committee; Interdepartmental Policy Committee Ensuring co-ordination between different levels of Government is critical if the rural development policy framework is to be implemented effectively. In practice, Government policies will remain largely vertical and sectoral in their application and implementation. However, the strategy in the White Paper is for the formulation and implementation of a policy framework which is multi-sectoral, integrated and well co-ordinated and which addresses the public policy issues which do not fall within the remit of any one particular Department of State. A Cabinet Sub-Committee, chaired by An Taoiseach and comprising Ministers and Ministers of State who have a significant remit in relation to policy responsibilities which impinge on rural development, will ensure policy co-ordination at the highest level and monitor the implementation of the strategy in the White Paper. At official level, an Interdepartmental Policy Committee, under the chairmanship of the Department of Agriculture and Food and (APPEARS ON PAGE 24 OF THE PUBLISHED DOCUMENT)comprising senior officials of relevant Departments, will report directly to the Cabinet Sub-Committee. The Cabinet Sub-Committee and the Interdepartmental Policy Committee will seek to ensure complementarity, effective linkages and co-ordination of policy at national, regional and local levels and will have an important role in fostering and developing multi-agency, cross-departmental, co-operation.
  • Regional and local levels The balanced regional development, which is the underlying basis of the White Paper, requires institutional structures to plan and co-ordinate policy implementation at the regional and local levels. The structures through which regional development will be pursued are set out in Chapter 6.2. A characteristic of the present institutional framework is that, in some cases, it is uncoordinated in terms of the spatial operational areas of the State bodies. To facilitate a more integrated, co-ordinated approach, agencies and public bodies should operate within similar territorial boundaries. The Government is committed to establishing common operational regions and to harmonising the boundaries of State bodies and agencies on the basis of the operational areas of the Regional Authorities.
  • National Rural Development Forum In order to identify, examine and evaluate, in a structured manner, the valuable experience gained in policy implementation, particularly in local development and in pilot actions, and to ensure that valuable lessons are considered systematically for application in mainstream policy, a national Rural Development Forum will be established to debate current issues, review existing programmes to determine their impact and identify suitable policy responses to rural problems. The Forum will have a wide membership including Government Departments, State Agencies, the Regional Assemblies and Authorities, Local Authorities, the social partners, local development bodies, and the wider voluntary and community sector.

North South arrangements
Some of the most disadvantaged communities - those displaying high levels of poverty and social exclusion - are in the border areas. In recent decades, areas and communities which might have co-operated for mutual benefit have developed, in many cases, in isolation from each other.

The Steering Committee on Cross-border Rural Development was established at the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference in September 1991. The terms of reference for the Committee, which comprises senior officials of the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland, are to (a) encourage and examine the best means of promoting 'bottom-up' initiatives and to share experiences and best practice, (b) help maximise the economic and social benefits of EU, national and regional programmes, (c) monitor progress on local rural development initiatives and co-ordinate responses to joint and complementary plans developed by cross border communities and (d) act as a forum for reconciling policy and practices on both sides to facilitate progress on local rural development initiatives.

The Government is committed to close co-operation with Northern Ireland and will give the highest priority to co-ordinating the efforts of appropriate Departments and agencies in implementing programmes for economic and social development and in encouraging community development in border areas.
In accordance with the Strand Two provisions of the Agreement Reached in the Multi-Party Negotiations (the "Good Friday" Agreement) last year, a number of areas have been identified for enhanced co-operation through the mechanism of existing bodies in each separate jurisdiction. Under these arrangements, and with the agreement of the North South Ministerial Council, it is envisaged that the role of the Steering Committee will be to
  • promote maximum co-operation in the implementation of rural development programmes and on EU programmes,
  • exchange information on experience and best practice in both jurisdictions in relation to rural development, and
  • examine the scope for a common approach to the feasibility of developing cross-border area based strategies and rural development research.

The Steering Committee will operate in consultation, as appropriate, with the North/South Implementation Body on special EU Programmes.

"Rural Proofing"
If the implementation of policy discriminates against rural communities and areas, national economic performance and social cohesion will be jeopardised. An essential element of the strategy set out in the White Paper is that sectoral policies will contain a regional and rural focus to ensure that policy implementation represents appropriate responses to the needs of rural communities.

Administrative procedures for "rural proofing" will be introduced for application by all Departments, to ensure that policy makers are aware of the likely impact of proposals on rural communities. The operation of these procedures at all levels of the institutional framework will contribute significantly to integrating the strategy for the economic and social development of rural areas with the objectives and principles of other policy initiatives and, in particular, of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Review and Assessment
The White Paper represents a statement of the Government's commitment to the maintenance of vibrant rural communities. It is not an end in itself. Policy formulation and implementation is an on-going process. Rural areas face many challenges in their attempts to share fully in national economic and social development. On-going review of the strategy outlined in the White Paper allied to a comprehensive research programme to assist policy formulation in the future, are essential elements in identifying the evolving needs of rural communities and in evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of the rural development process.

In order to provide for review and analysis, the Government will establish a Rural Development Fund which will finance research, including collaboration in policy orientated rural research by research organisations and third level institutions, evaluation and pilot actions, where appropriate. The Fund will be administered by the 'lead' Department and will support specific assignments focused on important policy questions in order to facilitate a rigorous and analytical approach to providing information and advice to policy makers. It will facilitate critical feedback in relation to such issues as

  • assessing the impact, effectiveness and complementarity of sectoral policies and institutional arrangements,
  • quantifying and gathering data on trends, examining structural change and issues impacting on the rural community,
  • identifying income and employment opportunities,
  • examining gender issues and issues relating to rural inclusion and,
  • identifying and promoting good practice in policy implementation.