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Minister Ó Cuiv must be supported by Government policy in effort to protect rural communities

3 June, 2004

Spokesperson for Rural Affairs, Martin Ferris TD, while commending Minister Eamon Ó Cuiv for his commitment to rural communities, pointed at the failure of the Government to fulfil its commitments in the White Paper on Rural Development, saying that Ó Cuiv's "good intentions" were "being nullified by the overall thrust of Government policies."

Speaking at the final stage of Sinn Féin's Private Members' motion on Rural Development, Deputy Ferris said:

"The Minister is correct in saying that trying to halt the decline in rural communities is one which no other European, or indeed any other modern developed state, has succeeded in cracking but that he is prepared to attempt this in an Irish context. That is certainly a laudable aim and he has attempted to do so by establishing a number of initiatives as the Minister in a separate Department. I believe that Minister Ó Cuiv is passionately devoted to the future of rural communities. What concerns me, however, is that his good intentions and the excellent work being carried out under his Department are being nullified by the overall thrust of Government policies.

"It is my belief that the socially progressive objectives of the Minister and many others within his own party are having to take second place to the dominant ideology within the Government which is driven by what one might describe as a right-wing fiscal agenda. It is no coincidence that this is taking place at a time when the single most right-wing party in this state - the Progressive Democrats - is part of the Governing coalition. There are without doubt fundamental differences between the world view of many within Fianna Fáil and the PDs. I cannot imagine that Minister Ó Cuiv shares his colleague's views or the PD's extreme attitude towards the role of the state. Individual initiative is crucial but private enterprise itself will never be sufficient to solve the problems facing rural communities. The Government expresses support for the Western Development Commission but in practice has ignored many of the recommendations which have been made by the Commission. In its blueprint for Organic Agri Food Production in the West, the WDC pointed to the potential for organic production allied to higher value added processing for the export market but this has not been followed by the Government. In fact it has cut the level of state support, training and support for the organic sector.

"Despite commitments made in the National Spatial Strategy, the so-called 'hub centres' have not proved sufficient to attract new foreign companies. And most of them have actually experienced increased unemployment since 2002. In Tralee, which is served by a technology centre and an Institute of Technology, there have been no new inward investments since the launch of the spatial strategy, and it would appear very little effort on the part of the state to interest foreign companies in the area. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has refused to meet with Tralee Councillors to discuss ways of tackling the jobs crisis.

"An area that is crucial to economic development is up-to-date communications technology. This is especially important in places outside of the main urban centres where e-commerce can potentially outweigh other structural disadvantages. The White Paper referred to the prospect that the provision of broadband telecommunications might facilitate an expansion of this country's development in this sector, with the view that rural areas would benefit from this. However, a report from February this year concludes that this has not been successful and states that " - Ireland has a disappointingly under-developed broadband market. Low penetration is due to high wholesale costs, lack of co

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