National Development Plan

“The new Strategy will enable us to achieve a more balanced regional development. It is a 20-year strategy designed to enable every place in the country to reach its potential, no matter what its size or what its location. It recognises that the various regions of the country have different roles to play. It seeks to organise and co-ordinate these roles in a complementary, win-win way that provides an opportunity for all concerned. It is about making regions competitive according to their strengths. It is about ensuring a high quality urban environment, as well as vibrant rural areas”
Fine words indeed, and noble aspirations too. From a speech in Sligo last week? No, it was then Taoiseach Bertie Ahearn speaking at the launch of the National Spatial Strategy in Dublin in the 5th September 2001. Re-hashing the past is not going to serve any positive purpose 17 years on but that plan which was going to solve all the ills of rural Ireland lasted about 18 months until Charlie McCreevy’s decentralisation plan ensured that it went into the bin.
I have absolutely no doubt that the National Development Plan unveiled last week in Sligo was done with the best of intentions and there are some great things in it for sure. But our history of delivering on these plans is not good, not good at all.
Projects like the N4 from Longford to Mullingar (did I hear, Longford to Ballaghaderreen?), money for Knock Airport, the delivery of the National Broadand Plan, investment in roads and educational facilities will certainly help rural Ireland.
However if you drill down into the figures a little there are worrying realities. We were told last week that there was one billion Euro being set aside for towns and villages with a population of less than 10,000 people. If we are to assume that there are at least 2,000 such towns and villages around the country (and that’s a very conservative figure) it works out at about 33,000 Euro per village and town per year over 20 years. It’s welcome but it’s not exactly ground breaking stuff.
The problems that we in Roscommon (and many other rural areas) have is that our young people from age 18 to 40 are gone. Whether it’s to college or to work very few are left because there is nothing to keep them here. Young people are the life blood of any community for it to survive. We should be able to offer at least some of them a reason to stay and work and live in our community. If things remain the same as they are at the moment in 25 years’ time when my generation are old and beginning to pass on, what will be left? I have four daughters and the likelihood of any of them ever living and working in Roscommon is remote.
The small towns and villages of rural Ireland are dying and that’s not an exaggeration. At a recent county board meeting one of the items on the agenda was “amaglamations”. It means that there are GAA clubs who simply cannot field underage teams at the moment and are joining with neighbouring clubs to survive. In 10 years’ time the same will be happening to the senior teams if we didn’t do something fast.
I am not so naïve to think that the next Facebook or Google will be situated in Roscommon Town or Castlerea or Boyle, but rural areas like ours need positive discrimination in our favour when it comes to development.
On his TV show recently Matt Cooper exclaimed “Sure the recession is over and the boom is back, the pubs are full of people spending money like there’s no tomorrow”. I’d like to take Matt on a tour of Roscommon town or indeed any other town in the county any day or night during the week to see what’s going on in reality. It’s a mindset that infuriates people in rural areas.
What general happens in this country is that politics always gets in the way. No matters what Ministers and TD’s say the most important thing for them is to get re-elected. Long term planning goes out the window and sectional interests take over. It has happened time after time after time in this country and we have not learned the lessons of the past. Maybe this time will be different but I wouldn’t be holding my breath.
So while I have no doubt that the National Development Plan that will bring us up to the year 2040 is well intentioned and the aims are achievable and it will try to benefit everyone I remain to be convinced that it can be delivered. I apologise for my scepticism but history shows that it is it is well founded.

(Roscommon People)