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Declaration welcome, but community must be at the heart of rural development – Ní Riada

7 September, 2016 - by Liadh Ní Riada MEP

Speaking following the European Commission's conference on rural development held in Cork yesterday and today, Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada gave a broad welcome to the Cork 2.0 Declaration made this afternoon, but commented that community must be at the heart of policy formation.

Speaking en route to Brussels following the conference, Ní Riada said:

“Twenty years ago the Cork Declaration set out the stall for European rural development policy. Since then successive programs have supported economic growth and diversification, community development, social inclusion and infrastructural progress in rural Ireland.

“These positive changes in Ireland owe much to the community-led LEADER programmes, which across the island, took local knowledge and skills, and matched them with local needs. It is this community-led ethos and a bottom-up approach which has made LEADER such a success.

“I welcome this new Cork Declaration. The involvement of stakeholders from rural communities across Europe in drafting this document gives it a legitimacy and an urgency that must not be lost on the Commission.

“I am especially pleased to see the need for growth in jobs, for environmental responsibility and for robust financing be recognised in the Declaration. I also welcome the recognition that boosting knowledge and innovation is a valid objective in the rural context.

“In the discussions leading to this declaration I made the point that the community-led ethos and bottom-up approach must remain central to rural development, and must not be undermined by either the European Commission or by member-states. Unfortunately we have seen a move away from community control of LEADER in the Irish context as part of the destructive reforms introduced by Phil Hogan while Minister for Agriculture in the last Government.

“I have worked closely with LEADER companies in Ireland to undo some of this damage, but I am concerned that this crucial funding stream is not yet being rolled out across the country. The Commission and the Irish Government must listen closely to stakeholder, consider the Declaration carefully, and commit themselves to respecting the rights of communities to lead development."

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