Pat Spillane: ‘Last chance saloon near for rural Ireland’

Gaelic football legend Pat Spillane has hit out at the "painfully slow progress" in implementing rural job-creation ideas put forward by a group he chaired.

The Kerryman had been invited by former environment minister Phil Hogan, now the EU agriculture commissioner, to head up the Government’s Commission for Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA).

However, Mr Spillane said he became disillusioned over the past six months with Government inaction in implementing recommendations put forward in a CEDRA report.

The television GAA pundit also criticised the €1m budget allocation for carrying out the commission’s proposals — the same sum allocated for dealing with wandering horses in urban areas.

At upwards of 100 meetings convened across the country, Mr Spillane said CEDRA had listened to people who knew both the problems and the solutions. It was the public input which resulted in 34 recommendations contained in a report, presented to the Government a year ago.

The report was made public in April. Mr Spillane said he had become very disillusioned and frustrated over the past six months.

He said people at the “listening’’ meetings occasionally wondered if the commission was “a load of hot air” and if ideas put forward would be shelved.

Mr Spillane said he would reply “no” to both questions because he was convinced the Government was committed to action on the ideas to be presented. “We came up with solid, workable, recommendations which would not cost a whole pile of money to implement,” he told Radio Kerry.

Consequently, Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, Ann Phelan, was given responsibility for implementing the proposals with an inter-departmental committee. However, Mr Spillane believes a senior minister and the Department of the Environment should take responsibility.

The Department of Agriculture, he said, was responsible for what happened inside the farm gate. But what was needed was someone to drive job-creation off-farm, and in rural towns and villages, he insisted.

Mr Spillane said it was “now damn close to last chance saloon” for rural Ireland and, while the economy in urban areas might be improving, there was no sign of a boost in rural Ireland, which had flat-bottomed.

He pleaded with the Government to act and to stop listening to advisers or taking dictation from civil servants and bureaucrats in Brussels.

The report, Energising Ireland’s Rural Economy, highlighted the need for an integrated approach to rural economic development. It also called for a support pathway to help rural businesses and small-scale food producers to develop export markets.

Minister Phelan said last evening the €1m allocated in the 2015 Budget under the CEDRA banner was to address one specific recommendation in the report.

She said the allocation would be used to pilot a small number of initiatives to assess their viability.

She added that the implementation of all 34 recommendations was being actively directed and prioritised by the high level inter-departmental group, of which she was chairperson.

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