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8. Human Resources

Development of the human resource base in rural areas is critical to the maintenance of vibrant communities. Education and training will sustain and enhance the vitality of rural communities, support community based leadership, foster self-reliance, promote an enterprising and business culture and address disadvantage. Local empowerment and facilitating community development will enable the communities to participate in, and contribute to, the development of their own areas, assist in tackling disadvantage and facilitate an overall improvement in the quality of life.

Education and Training

The educational process should foster self-development, provide people with the ability to realise their full potential and provide them with the skills which will access job and income opportunities. The ability of young people to avail of education and training without having to leave their areas has important consequences for the population profile of rural areas.

Education and training have a vital role in generating and sustaining economic activity. The availability of a well educated and flexible workforce facilitates economic diversification and the attraction of income and job creating opportunities to rural areas. The development of new technologies, for example, requires a flexible labour force with a high level of general education and possessing good basic skills in handling information technology. The Institutes of Technology in particular have a major role to play in the promotion and location of industry in their areas and in supporting the concept of regional development.

The education and training systems must ensure that all rural dwellers can develop to their full potential and that the needs of disadvantaged and socially excluded groups are addressed. Children born into disadvantaged households or who live in deprived areas are at greater risk of educational failure and subsequent labour market exclusion. The connection between poor educational qualifications and poverty becomes more pronounced over time and those without qualifications face high probabilities of both current unemployment and future long term unemployment.

Research has identified the need for early intervention education services as an important element in addressing disadvantage. Rural primary and secondary schools must be able to provide disadvantaged students with a package of services, including small classes and remedial teachers, to allow individualised learning for students and deliver a broad curriculum to meet the needs of all students.

Education and training in local development is particularly important to ensure that voluntary associations, occupational groups and community groups have the capacity to participate in, co-operate with and contribute to, the development process and to work collectively on their own behalf.

The Government is committed to the provision of a comprehensive and all embracing education system, consistent with what is practicable and economically feasible given the competing demands and priorities within the education system, on a geographically dispersed basis. This will include the provision of distance education and outreach facilities with an emphasis on technological supports and resources.

The Government's "An Action Programme for the Millennium" specified that all one teacher primary schools with ten or more pupils would be allocated a second teacher. Progress in implementing this commitment is already well under way. At second level, the Department of Education and Science considers requests in relation to staffing allocations where particular problems arise in relation to the curriculum on offer. Applications for the provision of physical facilities are considered on a case by case basis.

At present, the Commission on School Accommodation is considering the planning criteria for schools at first and second levels and is undertaking a comprehensive statistical and demographic analysis in this context. The Commission is expected to confirm and highlight the importance of good schools as part of the infrastructure needed to encourage people, to remain in or return to rural communities. The Department of Education and Science is committed to examining carefully the Commission's report and to reviewing fully current practice.

The measures to address educational disadvantage, pre-school services, remedial teachers, home-school-community liaison teachers, "Breaking the Cycle", etc., will be extended in accordance with the priorities of the programmes and taking account of available resources.

The County Development Boards will, through the involvement of third level institutes and the State Agencies in the preparation of the County Strategy, examine education and training needs in their areas. Where possible and following agreement with the relevant authorities, the Boards will contribute to the provision of outreach and flexible responses at the local level. The Boards will also facilitate linkages and collaboration between education and enterprise and between the delivery agencies, in targeting and responding to local needs.

The Rural Training Advisory Committee which was established by the Department of Agriculture and Food to implement the recommendations of the Review Group "Strategy for Rural Development Training" (1993) will be re-activated at national level to review education and training needs in the area of rural development. The Committee will examine, in particular, the existing rural development education and training programmes and evaluate their effectiveness in meeting rural development objectives. The Committee will also explore possibilities for improved co-ordination and integration between the various education and training providers and for making greater use of agricultural training college facilities in this area.

The Government has published a Green Paper "Adult Education in an Era of Lifelong Learning" which forms the basis for discussion and consultation with a wide range of interests to enable the Government to define its priorities and to publish a White Paper in this important area before the end of the year.

Community Development

The experience of recent local development initiatives has demonstrated clearly that there is a considerable community and voluntary effort which can be mobilised to promote economic and social development in rural areas. As a result, support for local area-based initiatives which promote community empowerment, participation in decision-making and control over resources, has become central to rural and local development policy.

A number of local development, area-based measures has been put in place in recent years with the support of EU Structural Funding. These

  • facilitate job creation projects,
  • provide structures which facilitate active community participation in decision-making,
  • contribute to the effective integration of 'top-down' and 'bottom-up' policies at local level, and
  • provide capacity building, training and support services for community development and disadvantaged target groups.

Area-based strategies serve as an important and vital focal point for the purposes of targeting disadvantage. The local development structures, especially the Area-based Partnerships and Community groups in rural areas, have been successful in addressing social inclusion needs on a local targeted basis and have clearly demonstrated the contribution which the area based approach can make to addressing the problems of rural areas.

The collective action of the local community contributes to the development process by identifying local needs, in setting goals and priorities and in involving key local participants in a multi-sector, integrated approach. The innovative and flexible approach of the local development bodies also provides considerable scope to adjust to local circumstances and to overcome obstacles to development by drawing on the State Agencies to resolve problems. However, community development is a long process and it requires support in terms of capacity building, education and training.

The Government is committed to encouraging, supporting and empowering active rural communities to plan and contribute to the development of their own areas and to maintaining, and where appropriate, improving the quality of life and creating the sense of community which will make rural communities attractive places in which to live and work.

The Area-based Partnership approach to addressing disadvantage at local level will be continued. The Government is committed also to the continuation of the LEADER programme in the context of the European Union's Community Initiative for Rural Development which will succeed the current programme. In accordance with the Report of the Task Force on the Integration of the Local Government and Local Development Systems (1998) a single agency should operate LEADER and the Area Partnership approach in rural areas.

The Task Force Report, which has been endorsed by the Government, contains a strong focus on community development and social exclusion in rural areas. The Report identified the Local Electoral Area, or a combination of them, as the appropriate unit for the purposes of local development and particularly for community development. For this purpose, Area Committees will be expanded by the inclusion of representatives of the community and voluntary sectors. Some local authorities have already prepared themselves for an expanded role in community development and in tackling social exclusion; this process will be supported and encouraged. However, where a relevant local development body exists, it will assume responsibility for community development with a focus on disadvantage.

A comprehensive community support structure will be provided, therefore, in all rural areas through either the LEADER programme, the Area based Partnership approach or through the local authority Area Committees. Activities at local level will be co-ordinated by the County Development Boards. Local development group and community participation in the Boards will assist rationalisation and eliminate duplication in programme delivery. The Strategic Policy Committees which were established under the Programme for Local Government Renewal also provide a link between the voluntary and community sector and the local authorities.

The Government has published "Supporting Voluntary Activity, A Green Paper on the Community and Voluntary Sector and its Relationship with the State" and is committed to the publication of a White Paper during 1999. The aim of the White Paper will be to set out a cohesive framework of support for the voluntary and community sector and to address issues relevant to the future relationship between the statutory sector and the voluntary and community sector. Issues such as the establishment of principles to underpin that relationship, the establishment of formal consultative mechanisms involving the sector with statutory agencies, representation of the voluntary and community sector in local, regional and national policy making fora and structures to support that relationship, will be addressed. The White Paper also aims to develop a cohesive framework of support for the voluntary and community sector. The primary focus in the White Paper will be on voluntary and community organisations engaged in anti-poverty community development and social service work, including youth services in both urban and rural areas.

The Government will continue to implement the programmes which fund the voluntary and community sectors such as the Community Enterprise Schemes, the Community Development Programme, the Programme of Core-Funding for locally-based Community and Family Support Groups and the Family and Community Services Resource Centre Programme. The Community Development Programme, in particular, targets funding at projects that provide a range of supports, development opportunities and services to community groups that tackle poverty and disadvantage, including rural communities.

Community facilities and amenities are important elements of the social infrastructure required to support and encourage community development. Sporting and social facilities have been provided by many rural communities through Community Employment Schemes and with some assistance from public funding through the local authorities. These arrangements will remain in place to provide support and funding for community and social, cultural and recreational facilities and amenities.

In order to promote and develop partnership at all levels of the institutional framework, all Operational Programmes under the Community Support Framework for the next 'round' of the Structural Funds, as well as plans and strategies prepared by State Agencies, the Regional Assemblies, Regional Authorities, County Development Boards and local development bodies, will set out

  • arrangements for the widest possible consultation and participation in the planning process, and
  • proposals for achieving equity, particularly gender balance, in participative arrangements.