When Irish ideas are smiling - The Orca
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When Irish ideas are smiling

Dene Moore
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Dene Moore: Ireland has unveiled a bold new plan for its rural areas. Rural British Columbians are green-eyed with envy.

“Our Vision is for a thriving rural (region) which is integral to our national economic, social, cultural and environmental wellbeing and development, which is built on the interdependence of urban and rural areas, and which recognises the centrality of people, the importance of vibrant and lived-in rural places, and the potential to create quality jobs and sustain our shared environment.”

That’s what I like to hear. Unfortunately, it’s not British Columbia. That’s the vision the government of Ireland unveiled this week in a sweeping, five-year strategic plan aimed at revitalizing the county’s rural regions.

The 118-page “Our Rural Future” plan says changing work habits spurred by the pandemic present an “unparalleled opportunity” for rural development in the country where, like B.C., about 40 per cent of the population is rural.

The island country – a little more than one-seventh the size of British Columbia – says the five-year strategy will put a major focus on attracting remote workers to rural communities.

It will include revitalizing town centres, rural jobs, adventure tourism, and the green economy, as well as improving broadband coverage to bring new opportunities in areas like eHealth, remote learning, online trading and new technologies.

The Irish government describes its “Our Rural Future” plan as ambitious and transformational. Why?

“The Government’s vision is for a rural Ireland which is integral to our national economic, social, cultural and environmental wellbeing and development,” said An Taoiseach Micheál Martin, the country’s prime minister.

“That vision is built on the talent, skills and creativity of people in rural communities; on the importance of vibrant and lived-in rural places; and on the potential to create quality jobs and sustain our shared environment.”

A cohesive plan? For rural areas? With clear commitments, timelines and accountability? Imagine.

To my knowledge there hasn’t been a rural strategy in B.C. since the previous government released their rural economic development plan four years ago.

The current government launched a rural development engagement process after taking office, and produced an 18-page summary three years ago of what they heard. It doesn’t appear that initiative went any further.

That’s not to say that the provincial government does not invest in rural B.C. There are announcements every week about infrastructure funding, pandemic recovery support for smaller communities, agriculture investments, and broadband expansion.

But they are doled out piecemeal, with no recognizable pattern or plan that I can discern, which leaves the impression maybe there isn’t one. And that’s just unacceptable for the people for who call home 90 per cent of the provincial land mass.

Yes, there’s been a pandemic, and that pandemic has wrought economic and social chaos. But the pandemic will end, and one can only hope that the planning for a future beyond is well in the works. Certainly Ireland found the time.

That country plans to “build resilient and sustainable rural communities and economies through investment, supports and services. And it will ensure that rural communities are at the heart of designing and delivering responses that meet local needs.”

The Irish plan, among 152 clear policy measures spelled out along with the responsible governing body, includes tax breaks and incentives to encourage people to relocate to rural areas. It includes investment in rural public transportation and a pilot program to develop rural pubs as community hubs for local services. I mean, it is Ireland.

It includes establishment of 96 new community healthcare networks throughout the country to reshape community healthcare services to allow people to live independently in their communities.

There are commitments to develop walking and cycling infrastructure, to develop a long-term agri-food strategy, and to move 60,000 of the country’s 300,000 civil servants to remote work from rural communities BY THE END OF THIS YEAR.

The country’s minister for rural and community development, Helen Humphreys, says the pandemic has created a unique opportunity to reimagine rural Ireland.

“For decades we have seen global trends where young people leave their local communities to live and work in larger cities. As we emerge from COVID-19 we will never have a better opportunity to reverse that long-standing trend.”

Imagine.

Dene Moore is an award-winning journalist and writer. A news editor and reporter for The Canadian Press news agency for 16 years, Moore is now a freelance journalist living in the South Cariboo. Moore’s two decades in daily journalism took her as far afield as Kandahar as a war correspondent and the Innu communities of Labrador. She has worked in newsrooms in Vancouver, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, St. John’s and Edmonton. She has been published in the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s magazine, the New York Times and the Toronto Star, among others. She is a Habs fan and believes this is the year.

SWIM ON:

SWIM ON