The Government has defended the absence of any detailed targets and funding allocations in its new five-year strategic plan for Rural Ireland.
Minister for Social Protection and Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys said given the pandemic it would “unwise at this time” to have detailed targets on job creation in the regions.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said much of the financing would be contained in Budget 2022 and could not be revealed until then.
He said that the publication of strategy indicates the economic social and cultural priorities of the coalition.
As part of the plan, Minister Humphreys said her department would be exploring the possibility of small, targeted grants to encourage people to relocate to small towns and villages.
She said it was about helping people who want to live in rural Ireland to achieve that goal.
Minister Humphreys said there was “a lot happening” in this policy and it is underpinned by funding they have “never had before”.
Speaking at a briefing this afternoon, Minister Humphreys said there is “real funding” there and they want to target all of that funding into rural towns and villages.
She encouraged towns and communities to “come up with good ideas” and they will be supported.
The minister said there is a big focus on developing outdoor amenities and “adventure tourism” is the type of tourism people want to engage in.
She said they are introducing a new pilot scheme to support rural pubs and she has engaged with pub owners.
Minister Humphreys said there is also a focus on building capacity within communities to shape their future.
“I’m a big believer in rural development from the bottom up, so if you have good ideas, we want to hear them,” she said.
The plan proposes transforming disused derelict buildings and pubs into remote working hubs.
It also includes the provision of public sector hubs in regional towns for public servants to work in their local areas, and a target of 400 IDA investments for region locations to create jobs.
Minister Humphreys said a report on how the plan is progressing will be made to Government every six months and this week she will be outlining a list of actions to be worked on this year.
She said there are many buildings in town centres that could be repurposed for people to live in and there will be a “strong focus” on that.
The minister said there would be initiatives in that area so that they can get people back into towns and get old buildings back into use.
Speaking to RTÉ’s Drivetime after the briefing, Ms Humphreys said it is important to note that the plan is “a policy framework” that sets out the ambition for rural Ireland across Government for the next five years.
She said she wants to be very clear that numbers are for capital plans and budgets.
Ms Humphreys said: “Those things are all discussed every year in terms of the numbers.
“But what I can say is that this is ambitious, and we already have funding streams there.”
Minister Humphreys said there is “almost three billion” for the national broadband plan, one billion for the rural regeneration fund, two billion for urban development, 500-million for the climate action fund, and 100-million for the town and village renewal scheme.
These funding streams “are there” she said, adding that they are going to work across Government and target them where they are needed.
She said: “So I want to see us developing a network of over 400 remote working hubs because I honestly believe remote working is a game-changer for rural Ireland.
Ms Humphreys said there are “real, concrete funding streams” to draw down money, and she is asking communities across the country to come up with plans and work with their local authority, and “we’ll fund you”.
They have to be good, sustainable plans, she said, but the money “is there”.
Ms Humphreys added she will be publishing the action plan for this year shortly, and the policy will be reviewed every six months.
Reporting Tommy Meskill, Karin Carthy