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3. Future Vision and Policy Agenda

If rural development is to be addressed in a coherent and effective manner by Government, the formulation and implementation of a national strategy must be guided by a clearly stated vision for rural society into the new millennium. As an overall objective to be achieved in the longer term, the vision statement represents a commitment by Government to maintain vibrant communities in rural areas and to establish a comprehensive policy response for that purpose. It is also an acknowledgement by Government that a medium to long term perspective will shape and inform the implementation of short term policies and that the primacy of short term economic considerations will be balanced by the principle of long term sustainability.

The Government is committed to (i) ensuring the economic and social well being of rural communities, (ii) providing the conditions for a meaningful and fulfilling life for all people living in rural areas and (iii) striving to achieve a rural Ireland in which

  • there will be vibrant sustainable communities with the range of age, income and occupational groups, such as to allow them to adapt to on-going economic, social, cultural and environmental change and to enjoy a standard of living and a quality of life which will make them attractive communities in which to live and work; the maximum number of rural households and especially, family farms, will be retained; there will be equity in terms of opportunity both between rural and urban communities, and between communities in rural areas; individuals and families will have a real choice as to whether to stay in, leave or move to, rural Ireland;
  • there will be sufficient income and employment opportunities to allow individuals and families to live with dignity;
  • rural communities will enjoy access to education, training and lifelong learning and to an adequate level of social and other services and infrastructures;
  • rural communities will participate effectively in the structures and decision making processes affecting them in an inclusive society based on the principles of equity, particularly in relation to gender balance and social justice;
  • the cultural identity of rural communities, in particular the language, tradditions, heritage and sense of community will be valued and retained;
  • the rural environment will be respected and development in rural areas will take place in a sustainable manner.

In order to realise the vision adopted in the White Paper, it is vital that (i) employment needs are met, (ii) poverty and social exclusion are reduced substantially and (iii) the benefits of economic prosperity are distributed more equitably on a regional basis. Consequently, the Government is committed, in the context of fiscal policy and management of the public finances, to implementing a comprehensive, coherent and sustainable strategy to provide the conditions and environment in which rural communities can thrive and prosper.

Policy Agenda
Although there has been considerable analysis and debate in recent years about the challenges facing rural communities, there is no generally agreed or universally understood definition of the nature and scope of public policy for rural development.

The White Paper addresses this situation by establishing a coherent strategy which will comprehensively inform Government policy into the future. A crucial element in the strategy is the institutional responses, including the designation of a "lead" department and identification of the specific roles of other structures.

Scope of the term 'Rural'
In geographic terms, rural areas are frequently described as spatial units consisting of small towns and villages, with populations of less than 1,500 or 3,000 inhabitants respectively, and their hinterlands.

Understanding of the precise meaning of rural development ranges from a view that the process involves a broad multi-sectoral concept which embraces a wide range of economic and social activity to a more narrow perspective which equates rural development almost exclusively with the development of agriculture. More recently, rural development policy has become identified with countering those socio-economic processes which are considered responsible for decline, change or under-development in areas outside of the major urban centres.

For the purposes of the White Paper and for formulating a comprehensive response by Government to the needs of rural communities, the rural development policy agenda constitutes all Government policies and interventions which are directed towards improving the physical, economic and social conditions of people living in the open countryside, in coastal areas, towns and villages and in smaller urban centres outside of the five major urban areas. The agenda will, at the same time, facilitate balanced and sustainable regional development while tackling issues of poverty and social inclusion.

Rural Development - a Public Good
Rural development and the well-being of the rural community is a public good. The economic, social and cultural development of rural areas should not be passively dictated by market forces alone. On average, there is little doubt but that market forces will favour urban at the expense of rural development, as evidenced by recent Irish experience.

In addition to ensuring the economic and social well-being of rural dwellers and providing for the institutional and physical environment in which they live, the Government strategy aims to facilitate and promote the capacity of rural communities to participate in, and contribute to, their own development and to addressing the problems of poverty and social exclusion.

Rural Development - Relationship to Urban Development
Rural development will not be achieved by emphasising division. In framing its overall policy response, the Government is determined to prevent rather than contribute to an urban/rural divide. A strategy for rural development does not represent competition with, or obviate the need for, urban development. Rather, the development of both in a harmonious way will result in a balanced mixed economy, and ensure that society as a whole is enriched by a continuum of national social and economic development.