Urgent action and a whole-Government response is required to grow and sustain a viable rural economy, IFA President Joe Healy said today during a presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Rural Affairs.
“Actions, responsibilities and delivery timelines are required if the Programme for Government commitment to create 135,000 jobs outside of Dublin by 2020 is to be delivered,” the IFA President said.
Joe Healy urged that the Government to fast-track the publication of their proposed Action Plan for Rural Ireland, “The national consultation meetings on the development of this Action Plan have now concluded and it is absolutely essential that further progress is made.
IFA has identified the following policy priorities to sustain viable rural communities
- A three-year exemption from local authority rates for new business start-ups, to support local enterprise development in rural areas;
- Measures, such as tax-credits, to encourage employers to take on apprentices and create long term employment;
- Tax incentives for businesses to locate in villages and town centres, which have been decimated during the recession;
- Increased and measurable targets for policing hours and presence of mobile units in rural areas by An Garda Síochána, to reduce crime and create a greater sense of security in the countryside;
- An increased and ring-fenced annual rural roads budget from the Department of Transport each year, allocated to local authorities as part of a planned repair and maintenance programme;
- The re-establishment of a separate local improvement scheme fund in each local authority;
- An increase in the number of voluntary rural walk schemes to support economic development and tourism in rural areas;
- A package of measures to facilitate the development of proposed Greenway projects, which works in co-operation with landowners impacted and protects their rights;
- A review of the hedge cutting dates, to reduce the closed period, in line with the nesting season, and
- Increased fines and greater enforcement by local authorities to tackle the scourge of littering by passing motorists and users of the countryside.
The IFA President warned that the vote by the UK to leave the EU earlier this year is already having a disproportionate impact on the rural economy, as the depreciation of sterling has had an immediate and negative price impact on agri-food exports and exports from Irish owned SMEs, for whom the UK is the destination for over 40% of their product.
He said a strategic response by Government to the UK’s Brexit decision will have a defining impact on Ireland’s rural economy.
“The Government must use its strong relationships with the UK and EU to influence as positive an outcome to the negotiations as possible, with the maintenance of a positive trading relationship with the UK, the retention of a strong CAP budget, and the maintenance of free movement of people as key priorities.”