Carol Nolan TD
Sinn Féin spokesperson Rural and Community Affairs, Deputy Carol Nolan has called on the Government to explain what measures it had taken to ensure equitable rural development in the Project Ireland 2040 Planning process.
Deputy Nolan tabled the Topical Issue motion in response to the spatial imbalance of the National Framework Plan and its failure to include measures to redress rural decline.
The Offaly and North Tipperary TD asked the Government to specifically describe what "rural proofing" metrics, processes and methodologies that were used to throughout all stages of the planning and which stakeholders contributed to that process.
"This Government claims to have strong rural credentials. It claims it is committed to ensuring the interests of rural communities and that businesses are equitably accounted for in planning, policies and programmes," she said
However, Deputy Nolan said that this was not evident in the Project Ireland 2040 Plan. There is little or no evidence that this Plan was subjected to a robust process of rural proofing.
“Rural Proofing is not an abstract idea. It is a methodical and systematic process of stress testing proposals to ascertain whether or not they will achieve critical targeted outcomes in rural areas. This systematic impact assessment approach is informed by statistical data and comprehensive processes of enquiry with key rural stakeholders," said the Sinn Fein Deputy.
Rural Ireland was not a homogeneous "non-urban" hinterland and solutions for coastal and island regions will vary substantially from those in the Border area, and it will differ again from those in the Midland region, she said.
Ms Nolan said that given the spatial imbalance of the National Framework Plan and its failure to include measures to redress rural decline, there was no evidence that Project Ireland 2040 had been subjected to rigorous rural stress testing or that it met any international standard rural proofing best practice.
"The Government’s failure to reach its own rural development targets over the past two years with job creation at 12 per cent of its target, leader expenditure at 0.3 per cent of its budget; rural broadband far behind schedule, and rural Housing targets not achieved, there is little reason to expect Project 2040 to deliver outcomes for rural Ireland," she said.
The TD asked the Government to detail the specific metrics, processes and methodologies that were used to rural proof the Project Ireland 2040 Plan throughout all stages of development and which stakeholders contributed to that process.
In response, Minister of State for Housing, Planning and Local Government Damien English gave a lengthy statement about the consultation process that was adopted, but failed to make any reference to any rural proofing techniques or impact assessments undertaken.
"I am very disappointed with your response” stated Deputy Nolan. "It is evident you are missing the point entirely."
Deputy Nolan stated that it was clear that the Government had neither methodologies, processes nor procedures in place to rural proof this or any other Department’s activities.
"It is clear that the Minister did not understand the distinction between ‘consultation’ and ‘rural proofing’ and it is clear that Project Ireland has not been subjected to any methodical rural impact assessment, all of which is a shocking indictment on this over-hyped, spatially imbalanced, Government vanity Plan," said the Sinn Fein Spokesperson.