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Rural Ireland “is at a crossroads” and requires a revitalisation of its towns, villages and settlements with as much gusto as leading promotional campaigns, a North Clare elected representative has declared.

Balanced population growth and economic sustainability may appear to be some of the key goals of the Clare Rural Regeneration Strategy of Ireland 2040 but Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG) has led the charge for Clare County Council “to be innovators and leaders in the area of attracting and facilitating people to return to settle and live in our rural towns and villages”.

He appealed for a programme of affordable housing development, investment in serviced sites on state or community owned lands to commence. A proactive approach from the local authority is needed to ‘maximise the opportunities presented by COVID-19’ in the guise of new thinking on quality of life and remote working. “We must market, incentivise, invest and seek to revitalise our rural towns, villages and settlements for living communities and permanent sustainable populations in the same manner as we do for tourism and the Wild Atlantic Way to ensure other major state investment in these settlements is not wasted and that these communities thrive as intended,” the Lisdoonvarna man stated.

Preparation of a core strategy aligned with the objectives of the National Planning Framework and the Southern Region’s Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy will be carried out as work continues on the Clare County Development Plan 2022-2028, Council Directors confirmed.

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A joint response from Liam Conneally, Anne Haugh and Leonard Cleary detailed that positive planning objectives “to secure the revitalisation of our county’s rural towns and villages” will be supported. Development opportunities will complement the addition of enterprise hubs in Clare, they added but noted the rollout of the National Broadband Plan will be crucial in this regard.

Jobs, multi-service centres, partnering parishes, age friendly, rural way of life, broadband/digital, transport, education and water are the eight pillars of the Clare Rural Development Strategy.

Reference was made to the enacted Affordable Housing Bill published by Housing Minister, Darragh O’Brien (FF) in January. “The three schemes aim to achieve an affordable housing supply through direct provision by local authorities on Council lands, a shared equity affordable purchase scheme and the introduction of a cost rental model”. Land owned by the Council is being examined to assess its viability for the scheme. “While this Council is ready to embrace the new schemes proposed the private sector need an incentive to invest in the development and regeneration of rural towns and villages for the initiative to be successful,” the reply added.

Previous State investment in the infrastructure of towns poses a clear opportunity, Cllr Garrihy felt. “I think rural Ireland is at a crossroads, some experienced colleagues will say it has been at them before and taken the wrong turn. A window of opportunity is there which is probably open wider because of the possibilities of remote working and I’m a very impatient person when I see an opportunity”.

Cathaoirleach of the Killaloe MD, Cllr Pat Hayes (FF) spoke of his admiration for Cllr Garrihy’s enthusiasm for rural initiatives. “Now is the time to use the opportunity when people are promoting shopping locally to see how some pilot projects would pan out”. Cllr Pat Burke (FG) believed “Anything that can be done to help rural Ireland is welcome”.

Clare’s Oireachtas members “appear to be asleep at the wheel,” Cllr PJ Kelly (FF) remarked. “He has listed the desirable, but how to make the desirable attainable is the challenge,” he surmised of the proposal.

Corofin has benefited from the impact of Laghtagoona to the village, Cllr Joe Killeen (FF) detailed. “It added so much to the village in terms of sporting prowess and the social side in the enthusiasm these people have added to life of the village”. He acknowledged the contribution of the late Jack Daly in setting aside sites for industry on the Kilrush Rd.

Although he applauded Cllr Garrihy’s contribution, Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) commented, “In reality the various policies have failed rural Ireland, no shops, no schools, no post offices, the horse has bolted for a lot of rural communities”. “There is nothing worse than to drive into a town or village and see the main street has fallen down. We have to make sure we can help in anyway possible for the centre of towns and villages,” Cllr Pat O’Gorman (FF) maintained.

“Myself and Joe are like twins with our thinking on this, we keep hopping off each other,” Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) quipped. He referenced discussion on the lack of second level places in Ennis as a critique of the approach of driving more people into certain areas and criticised the decision for an appeal to be made to An Bord Pleánala over a housing development in Bunratty.

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