Where should Ireland be in ten years time, and how do we get there?
Voters will have their say in answering those question on Friday week, says the Social Justice Ireland (SJI) independent justice advocacy organisation, which goes on to advise voters to consider what services and infrastructure are required to reach our destination, and how these to be paid for and delivered, while maintaining a vibrant and sustainable economy and society.
SJI has identified five things the Government can do for rural Ireland — as good a checklist as any to quiz canvassers on your doorstep.
* First, use windfall economic gains to front-load significant broadband investment in rural areas, which will support rural entrepreneurs, businesses, and employment creation.
* Second, implement a spatial strategy for how social, economic and physical development is balanced across Ireland.
* Third, deliver infrastructure and public services in rural areas of equal quality to urban areas.
* Fourth, invest in accessible public transport integrated across the country to give rural dwellers access to public services, employment and training opportunities.
* Fifth, develop rural and regional policy for sustainable employment, minimum essential standard of living, and public services and infrastructure for the long term.
SJI’s own election demands of the parties are built around a common EU corporation tax rate of 17.5% and increasing Ireland’s tax take from 31.1% to 34.9% of GDP.
It repeats its long-held view that welfare payments should be replaced by a weekly tax-free payment for everyone, which replaces tax credits for an employed person.
SJI says ending the two-tier recovery which leaves rural areas falling behind urban areas must be a major concern for the next government.
SJI figures spell out the higher poverty rates in rural areas, and the lower incomes. Risk of poverty is 6% higher, and disposable income after tax and welfare is €1,000-2,000 lower.
Low-paid, part-time and seasonal work, combined with unemployment and an ageing demographic are significant factors in rural poverty and social exclusion.
Since 2008, full time employment fell 6.6-8.7% across the regions.
Emigration is higher from rural Ireland, with at least one rural household in four affected by emigration of at least one member since 2006.
SJI sees better broadband as the priority for rural Ireland because its absence is a barrier to diversification and growth.
The CEDRA target of 30Mbps broadband to all rural areas by the end of 2015 was not achieved, and SJI says the outgoing government’s 2020 target for universal broadband coverage may possibly be missed also, given the current lack of investment.
Voters should also look for access to sustainable, well paid employment, and access to public transport and public services (such as schools, primary care centres, training opportunities), to ensure young people can remain and settle in vibrant rural communities.
Meanwhile, an older population will require greater access to health and care services, and are hit hard by cumulative cuts to public services.
Services in rural areas should be of equivalent quality to those in urban areas, says SJI.
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