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7. Employment; Maintenance and Creation

There must be an economic basis for communities to remain in rural areas. The creation and maintenance of employment and income generating opportunities are critically important, therefore, to sustaining vibrant rural communities.

The development of rural areas on the basis of the strategy outlined in the White Paper sets rural development within the framework of balanced regional development involving the promotion of economic activity in a planned way in the regions. The overall objective is the diversification of the rural economy and exploitation of the potential for economic development in an appropriate scale and manner for the benefit of the rural communities.

The Government is committed to achieving this objective by integrating sectoral policies with a regional approach and by implementing policies which will address the wide range of possibilities for economic development, supported by investment in infrastructure and service provision. The Government's approach will be to focus on the indigenous strengths of the rural economy and, at the same time, to facilitate wider economic development.

The most important way in which the Government can assist rural areas and facilitate development is through sound macro economic policies and careful management of the public finances which will provide the environment which will allow enterprise to prosper. The creation of a favourable climate for sustained economic growth through the continuation of low inflation and low interest rates will ensure competitiveness and create opportunities for rural communities to engage in rewarding, private as well as community/co-operative, market driven, enterprise and employment.

The exploitation of natural resources has a vital contribution to make to the rural economy. Primary sector activities, particularly agriculture, have traditionally been the most important contributors to the economies of rural areas. While primary production industries are providing less employment, there is still considerable potential for development and these sectors will continue to be a significant source of income and employment in rural areas provided they adapt to the challenge posed by modernisation, restructuring, market developments and the increasing emphasis on environmental matters.

An economically efficient agriculture sector and diversification into on-farm and off-farm activities, together with recognition of the multi-functional role of farmers, are essential components of the development of the rural economy.

Rural areas are dependent on both external investment and the development of indigenous resources for income and employment creation opportunities. Policy must address the challenge of ensuring that a significant proportion of new manufacturing and, more particularly, service sector jobs are located in rural areas.

No single sector offers the solution to the economic problems of rural areas. However, if the sectors of the rural economy which generate growth are not operating efficiently, there is little possibility that other policies will have an effective long-term impact.

The following policy areas are particularly important in sustaining employment, creating new opportunities and in assisting rural communities to prosper

7.1. Agriculture

Although the economic character of rural areas is no longer synonymous with agriculture, the sector remains the single most important contributor to the economic and social viability of rural areas. Agriculture employs a significant proportion of the rural population and while employment is declining in relative terms, the sector continues to play a defining role in the rural landscape and is the conduit for major public support for rural communities. Agriculture is, and will remain in future, critical to the well being of the rural economy and, in many areas, represents the main option for economic activity. Maintenance of a healthy agriculture sector is, therefore, an essential component of a comprehensive rural development strategy.

Overall Policy Context
Agriculture policy within the EU is largely determined and constrained by the requirements of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and international agreements. The recent outcome of the Agenda 2000 negotiations sets the framework within which the agriculture industry will develop in the immediate future. EU enlargement and the international trade negotiations being embarked upon in the WTO later in 1999 will also have a considerable bearing on the direction of agriculture in the years ahead.

It is clear that the attainment of improved competitiveness in agriculture must continue to be supported not only in the interest of rural communities but also in the interest of the national economy. In this context, the Government's commitment in the national agreement 'Partnership 2000, for Inclusion, Employment and Competitiveness' to maintaining a macro-economic environment which is conducive to structural change, necessary capital investment and production efficiency, is seen as particularly relevant. Improved competitiveness in the sector will require continued support in the areas of research, education and training and in securing a better age structure amongst farm operators. The promotion of quality output along with measures aimed at improved consumer assurance and environment friendly production systems will also be essential elements in securing the development of an efficient, competitive and modern agriculture.

Farm Families
The Government is committed to ensuring support for the maximum number of family farms.

The potential of partnership farming structures to support and maintain more farm families will be further explored. Priority will be given to addressing the needs of smaller low income farmers in the delivery of certain support measures and in accessing additional production quota rights. This is already the case insofar as a number of measures is concerned. Other possibilities in support of family farm units will be considered in the context of the preparation of the National Development Plan, 2000-2006. One such possibility involves an integrated development approach whereby small and medium scale farmers undertake business development programmes for their farm enterprises and secure access to a package of necessary investment, advisory and other supports.

Agri-Food Strategy Committee
Following on the agreement of Agenda 2000, and in the light of the changes and challenges which are likely to evolve nationally and internationally in the coming years, the Minister for Agriculture and Food has established an Agri-Food Committee to prepare a strategy for the development of the Irish agriculture and food sector over the next decade. The report of the Committee will be presented early in the year 2000. Its recommendations will have an important bearing on agri-food and wider rural development policy options to be adopted by the Government.

Off-farm Income and Employment
The need to compensate for the continuing decline in the relative economic importance of agriculture is a major challenge for rural areas as they seek future development opportunities. The emerging situation based on data in relation to farm viability reported by Teagasc and the reduction in farm numbers suggested by the NESF, as described in Chapter 2, will require an appropriate response, particularly in terms of supporting the development of alternative employment and income generating opportunities.

On the basis of current trends, off-farm income will be central to the survival of many farm families. Part-time farming in conjunction with off-farm activity will become increasingly important as a means of supporting viable households. Policies for agriculture and wider rural development must reflect that reality. Maintaining a stable and viable rural population will require policies to secure the optimum number of jobs in farming and related services, combined with the creation of additional jobs in industry and services for those who leave farming or engage in part-time farming. The buoyant economy and expected economic growth, combined with the strategy for regional development set out in the White Paper, will provide the employment opportunities to maintain viable farm households where off-farm income is necessary arising from farm structure or income levels.

Environmental Protection
Agriculture and forestry take up most of the national territory and are closely linked to the environmental quality of the countryside, which, of course, they have partly shaped and maintained. Increasingly, legislation and policy constraints are promoting positive effects and reducing the impact of harmful practices on the environment. Recognition of the strong desirability to protect and preserve the natural environment must be supported by incentives for compensatory support for environmental purposes. The Government is committed to the continuation of the Rural Environment Protection Scheme which is now availed of on one third of Irish farms. The current evaluation of the measure provides the opportunity to examine critically its overall effectiveness and to adopt appropriate amendments.

Strategy for the Future Elements of the Government's strategy for agriculture will include the following

  • targeting schemes of aid for on-farm investment in favour of small and low income farm families,
  • continuation of the early retirement and young farmer installation aid schemes,
  • identification and promotion of farm-based diversification and alternative enterprises, e.g. organic production and forestry, with the necessary supports for training, marketing, processing and distribution,
  • provision of incentives for the modernisation of capital and stock investments,
  • emphasising farm household viability in the provision of training and advisory services by Teagasc; the current socio-economic advisory service which is co-ordinated by Area Development Management Ltd. and provided to smallholders through the Area-based Partnerships and Community Groups and which maintains close linkages to the State Agencies, particularly Teagasc, will be evaluated and where appropriate, continued and extended,
  • provision of high quality research and development with particular reference to the needs of smallholders,
  • continuation of income support for low income farm families and the provision of off-farm income and employment opportunities on a regional basis, including targeted training by FÁS for off-farm employment for smallholders, particularly those in receipt of Farm Assist,
  • continuation of measures supporting environmental protection in recognition of the role of farmers as custodians of the natural resources of the countryside; inclusion of environmental safeguard conditions in various agriculture support schemes,
  • the establishment of a special advisory committee to examine, advise on and identify responses to the particular problems experienced by women in agriculture and to address specific training requirements,

7.2 Food

As indicated in the Food Industry Development Group Report (1998), this sector will maximise its potential through attention to competitiveness and market orientation. This demands, inter alia, a continuing focus on food safety and quality issues. The maximisation of potential in the food sector will be a vital stimulant to rural development. As pointed out by the Food Industry Development Group, the industry, through its purchases of raw materials and the provision of direct and indirect employment, makes a very positive contribution to the agricultural sector and the overall rural economy. That contribution will continue to be recognised in determining the future strategy and related public support requirements for the industry.

The strong linkage between the food and agricultural sectors facilitates a high degree of mutual interest. The Government's strategies in both areas will bear this in mind and, allied to overall economic and social objectives, will seek to ensure the maximum possible contribution from the two sectors to the generation of wealth and employment in rural areas.

In particular, the Government will:

  • encourage the development of alliances and partnerships between agricultural producers and food processors which respect the legitimate interests of both and which take due account - possibly through the direct involvement of retailers - of the needs of the market,
  • provide a comprehensive programme for the development of the food industry which addresses its identified needs in the areas of capital investment, research, technology and innovation (RTI), marketing development and promotion and human resources.

7.3. Marine and Natural Resources.

The Government is committed to exploiting the potential of Ireland's indigenous resources.

The development of marine and natural resources offers a significant advantage in developing stable and acceptable long-term economic activity in rural areas, offering work for which many of the skills required are available locally.

Government policy on marine and natural resources is focused on achieving their optimum long-term contribution to the national economy and to supporting the sustainable development of enterprise, creating employment and income and wealth generation in rural areas in particular.

The acceleration of forestry development in recent years is one of the most noticeable changes in the countryside and is one which will continue in the coming years under the momentum of Ireland's forestry programme. This change in land use will, if properly managed, have a positive effect on the environment at both local and national levels. Forestry plays a key role in the protection of ecosystems, soils, fresh water, biodiversity and genetic material and in climate balance. Compatibility with the protection of the environment is a basic principle of the forestry programme and there are vigorous controls in relation to fisheries, archaeology and the landscape. The guidelines are currently being revised. New guidelines on biodiversity and harvesting are being finalised and will be incorporated into a Code of Best Forest Practice.

The main elements of the Government Strategy for Forestry are as follows:

  • to increase the productive forest area to 1.2 million hectares and increase farmer planting in particular in the interests of rural development,
  • to increase the diversity of species in Irish forests in order to achieve better timber quality, to extend the range of potential end-uses, to reduce risks associated with monocultures for environmental and landscape purposes,
  • to ensure that forestry development is compatible with the protection of the environment,
  • to encourage the provision of public access to forests having regard to the rights of owners and the development of amenity forestry projects of local social and economic benefit,
  • to develop an internationally competitive sawmilling sector based on sound commercial principles,
  • to promote the establishment and continued development of a range of complementary primary, secondary and tertiary (including non-wood) forest- based processing industries so as to provide outlets for the output of Ireland's forests and to maximise the share of domestic and export markets which can be captured by such output,
  • to promote quality in all aspects of Irish forestry and to ensure that forest products and services meet all relevant national and international standards,
  • to promote research and development focused on the strengths of the Irish forestry sector with particular emphasis on market demands, industrial needs, environmental concerns and cost efficiency,
  • to develop a comprehensive inventory and planning system to provide forest resource, geographical and environmental data for management, control and planning purposes,
  • to ensure the availability and delivery of suitable programmes of education and training to cater for the increasing number of new entrants into forestry and the growth in scale and diversity in the sector.

The elements of the Government's strategy for the marine and other natural resources sectors are as follows:

  • maximisation of the long-term contribution of the fisheries sectors to the national economy through setting out a coherent strategy for the sea fishing industry, recognising the significance of the industry for social and economic development in rural areas; up-grading and modernising the fleet; putting in place a human resources strategy for the industry; developing new fisheries,
  • putting in place the necessary legislative framework to fully exploit the potential of the aquaculture sector in a sustainable and environmentally sensitive manner,
  • protecting and developing the Irish coast through Coastal Zone Management including the implementation of a targeted coastal protection programme to protect priority assets,
  • continued support for the development of inland fisheries through a review of management and institutions; pollution prevention programmes; continuously enhanced conservation measures and catchment management programmes,
  • support for the processing sector, with grant aid targeted at stimulating investment and the creation of long-term sustainable jobs; addressing the continuity of supply to the sector; encouraging the development of value added processing; supporting the achievement of the highest quality standards,
  • promoting the exploitation of earth resources when and where they are found by implementing the recommendations of the National Minerals Policy Review Group; maximising the benefits of off-shore exploration for hydrocarbons,
  • preserving and protecting the marine environment through the adoption and implementation of up-dated pollution legislation and measures in accordance with international standards; maintaining and developing emergency intervention and prevention capabilities; ongoing monitoring of the marine environment,
  • implementation of an effective Research, Technology, Development and Innovation (RTDI) Strategy for the marine and natural resources to ensure that RTDI effort is prioritised in accordance with the needs and potential of the sectors; ensuring that these services are available to the sectors to support development of enterprise; aiding development in an environmentally sensitive and sustainable fashion.

These, and other marine and natural resources strategies and initiatives, will be implemented in accordance with the principle of "rural proofing" and the regional and rural development strategy set out in the White Paper.

7.4. Enterprise

The provision of income and employment opportunities on a regional basis through enterprise is a vital component of the rural development strategy of supporting a dispersed rural population. Significant employment creation is required in rural areas to offset the decline in employment in the agriculture sector, to counter the trend towards major urban centres and indeed to attract people back to rural areas. Enhancing income and employment opportunities in rural areas requires a creative strategy to provide the environment which is conducive to innovation and risk-taking, to attract investment, stimulate entrepreneurship, support existing businesses, establish new firms, create new products and implement better business practices.

Overall Policy Context
Because of the rapidly improving employment situation, the focus at national level is shifting away from job creation to a more selective approach based on higher quality employment creation and a more specific strategy for inward investors. The aim in future will be to attract jobs of higher skills content with a corresponding needs for better educated and trained personnel. Regional development will be a significant element of policy linked with infrastructure development. Policy will be focused on the need to ensure that enterprises in areas outside the major urban areas will not be at a competitive disadvantage. The retention of the status as an Objective 1 region for a large part of rural Ireland will contribute in a significant way to securing the Government's rural and regional objectives.

Regional Development
The achievement of balanced regional development forms an essential part of the strategies being pursued by IDA Ireland in relation to foreign direct investment and by Enterprise Ireland in relation to indigenous development. IDA Ireland has taken steps to adjust its grant package in favour of attracting foreign direct investment into less developed regional locations. In addition to seeking to increase substantially the proportion of jobs created in new greenfield projects in the Objective I region, IDA Ireland is committed to assessing its performance against job creation results by reference to the regional distribution and quality of projects.

Enterprise Ireland is committed to developing indigenous industry to play a strong role in regional economic development. Because of its involvement in all aspects of business development, Enterprise Ireland will, in addition to working directly with its core client base in each region, be in a position to work closely with all development interests including relevant organisations, local development bodies and educational institutions to facilitate an integrated approach to industrial development in the regions.

In the Mid-West Region, Shannon Development operates as an integrated regional development agency and in this capacity interacts with the tourism, manufacturing and international services sectors. The Western Development Commission which was established on a statutory basis in February 1999 and has a remit in seven Western Counties (Clare, Donegal, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo) will also be a critical partner in the task of achieving balanced regional development. To support its role, the Government has allocated £25m. to the Commission over a five year period for a Western Investment Fund which will provide support in the form of loans and equity in enterprise projects.

Future Policy Focus
The Government is committed to promoting an enterprising culture in rural areas, to creating the conditions for investment, encouraging and supporting local enterprise and attracting inward investment in order to provide the maximum number of income and employment opportunities.

Industrial policy is, and will continue to be, based on developing competitive factors which are important in making Ireland a suitable base for the development of indigenous enterprises as well as an attractive location for specific targeted foreign direct investment. In the rural context, strengthening indigenous enterprise will generally be more successful in the long term than attracting large scale inward investment and rural areas will also be more sustainable if they can support local jobs and services.

Small and Medium Enterprise
In many cases, job creation in rural areas will continue to rely largely on small/medium scale developments, which given their scale, are more appropriate to employment creation in rural areas. Initiatives to promote small scale and local employment opportunities will continue as an important element of Government policy. The services sector presents enormous opportunities for job and income creation and has recorded the fastest employment growth of all sectors in recent years. It is essential that rural areas can attract their share of services employment.

In contributing to employment growth in their areas, the County Enterprise Boards, the local action groups approved under the LEADER programme and the Area Partnerships and ADM Community Groups have demonstrated the potential of the local focus which exploits indigenous resources and generates ancillary activities thereby maximising local value added.

Employment creation requires the collaboration of a variety of partners including the local authorities, local development bodies and State Agencies. The establishment of the County Development Boards can make a significant contribution to this process at local level. As recommended in the Report of the Task Force on the Integration of Local Government and Local Development Systems (1998), development and support for micro-enterprise will be the responsibility of the County Enterprise Boards. As provided for in the Report, where enterprise support forms an intrinsic and essential part of other programmes, such elements can be delivered through other relevant agencies by agreement where warranted. At the same time, however, local area-based initiatives will only be successful if they are integrated into the larger planning process at regional and national levels.

Back to Work Allowance and Back to Work Enterprise Allowance
The Back to Work Allowance Scheme was introduced to encourage the long-term unemployed and lone parents to return to the active labour force in either paid employment or self-employment. Participants in the Scheme are entitled to the Back to Work Allowance for up to three years and also retain entitlement to certain other secondary benefits.

The Area Allowance Enterprise Scheme which is operated by the Area Partnerships in conjunction with the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, has been particularly successful in encouraging the long-term unemployed to become self-employed. Under the Scheme, participants retain their entitlement to unemployment payment and secondary benefits for twelve months. When the Back to Work Allowance was introduced, it was decided that those on the Area Allowance Enterprise Scheme could progress to the Back to Work Allowance for a further three years.

The Area Allowance Enterprise Scheme has now been extended on a nation-wide basis (and re-titled the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance Scheme), thus providing the same level of support for applicants for self-employment irrespective of where they live. The Scheme provides four years support for those opting for self-employment. Currently, 11,000 self-employed and 16,000 employees are receiving a Back to Work Allowance.

Support for rural enterprise to help it to remain competitive and profitable and provide jobs opportunities will also be pursued in the context of the national strategy to encourage self-employment and in the reform of the tax and social security/ welfare policies which are aimed at removing disincentives to work and improving labour flexibility and mobility.

The Social Economy
As part of the overall development strategy, the social economy offers considerable potential for income and employment creation in rural areas and in the supply of services such as childcare, care for the elderly, and services to improve the quality of life. In addition to meeting real demands and providing services which are not met by the market or provided by the public sector, the social economy provides a local focus in terms of a) voluntary and community ownership, involvement and commitment, b) an employment and income focus and c) social, cultural and economic objectives.

Strategy for the Future
Industrial policy, both indigenous and foreign direct investment, will be examined regularly to ensure that it meets the needs of the economy and is streamlined, where necessary, with the requirements of enterprise and the evolving nature of international trade and associated market developments. The policy will be supported by investment in infrastructure, services and human resources and will be pursued in the context of integrated, sustainable regional development set out in the White Paper. More specifically, the objectives will be pursued through

  • the arrangements to promote regional development as set out in Chapter 6, particularly those relating to regional planning and investment incentives,
  • a comprehensive and flexible programme of investment support for enterprise under the National Development Plan, 2000-2006, including support for inward investment and indigenous enterprise in rural areas; the programme will provide a range of incentives to promote employment and self-employment in industry and the services sector,
  • support by the County Enterprise Boards and, subject to the European Commission's proposals, the LEADER programme, for economic diversification and to improve the competitiveness of small firms and provide access to a range of business support services, including technology and innovation services;the local development bodies, in particular, will encourage and support community enterprise and the co-operative approach,
  • support for job creation through funding for the social economy, through the local development bodies and in accordance with the report of the Partnership 2000 Social Economy Working Group,
  • the National Employment Action Plan which is a preventive strategy focusing on early intervention with the unemployed in order to get them back to work and prevent them slipping into long-term unemployment.

Ways must be found also to bring employment opportunities to those in rural areas who have been less than active in the labour market. Policies that incorporate sufficient flexibility to deal with rural conditions are vital, therefore, for improving employment opportunities for this target group. In addition to the policies and programmes being pursued in the National Anti-Poverty Strategy, the Government is committed to the following initiatives to overcome the particular limitations of rural labour markets and to improve the availability and quality of training and work experience programmes

  • further extension of the Jobs Initiative will have regard to rural areas with significant levels of unemployment and long term unemployment,
  • the Local Employment Service and the national FÁS Employment Service will work together effectively and in a co-ordinated way to ensure that employment opportunities in rural areas are accessible to those in need, including women, smallholders and people with disabilities,
  • the training element in Community Employment will be developed and more closely attuned to market needs and advice and support on progression to open labour market jobs will be provided to all Community Employment participants,
  • the FÁS travel allowances for training courses will be reviewed to facilitate more equitable access to training in rural areas,
  • the minimum number of participants required for FÁS training courses and other active labour market programmes will be reviewed consistent with the recommendations of the Partnership 2000 Working Group on Access by Women to Labour Market Opportunities.

7.5. Tourism

Tourism, and marine and rural tourism in particular, is playing an increasingly important role in the economy of rural areas and has considerable potential for further development.Tourism can be a powerful instrument of regional policy and, being locally based and available even to the most remote rural areas, offers significant jobs and income opportunities. It also offers rural communities the opportunity to benefit economically from their culture and environment and to compensate for the absence of a manufacturing or industrial base. Rural tourism can provide a viable alternative farm enterprise in the context of a planned approach to sustainable development. It can also involve a large number of local participants and provide a mechanism for integrated community development.

However, the rural tourism sector lacks a cohesive strategy and is inefficient in that it takes the form of many unrelated, small scale initiatives at local level. The achievement of critical mass at the local level is essential to the establishment of a viable sector in the future. Successful community based rural tourism is dependent on the totality of community involvement and its interaction with its environment and visitors. If rural tourism is to represent a realistic sustainable development option, it will require a carefully planned and targeted strategy as well as a high level of commitment, organisation and willingness to pursue objectives on the part of communities.

At national level, there is a need for a coherent policy in the form of a co-ordinated effort to develop a distinct rural tourism package. Rural tourism must be integrated effectively into national tourism policy, particularly the national marketing effort, and into a regional approach to economic development.

The Government is committed to developing the rural tourism sector, within the context of overall tourism policy, to ensure the maximum contribution to the economic and social development of rural areas while preserving the character, natural resources and environment on which the attraction of rural areas is based.As the authority with lead responsibility for tourism policy, the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation together with Bord Fáilte Éireann and in consultation with other State bodies and tourism interests, will prepare, in the context of the National Development Plan, 2000-2006, tourism policy containing a regional and rural dimension and outline strategies, including a strategy for the development of tourism in rural areas, with support from the next 'round' of Structural Funds.