The key role of Minister Heather Humphreys in the Government plan to drive investment and regenerate rural Ireland took shape this week, with the transfer of all rural affairs functions from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to her Department of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht.
She has also revealed she will co-ordinate responses of all Departments with respect to rural Ireland, as part of the Government action plan.
“This will ensure there is ministerial oversight and rural-proofing of Government decisions.
“I want to see Departments discriminate positively towards rural Ireland,” said Ms Humphreys in the Dail.
Responsibility for broadband provision and rural post offices will transfer to her Department shortly, along with the CLÁR programme to address depopulation and deficits in infrastructure and services.
“We have the LEADER programme, but I do not have the part of the rural development fund that relates to farming, which belongs to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
"We also have the rural economic development zones, and that is something that has been developed,” said the Cavan-Monaghan Fine Gael TD.
“Officials of my Department have been engaging with their counterparts in other relevant Departments to establish the precise details of the functions to come under the remit of my Department and to identify the associated personnel and other resources to be transferred.”
When announcing his cabinet on May 6, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the new Department of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht will retain all functions of the former Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
It will also be assigned responsibility for the roll-out of rural broadband and the development of the post office network.
In addition, the new Department gets responsibility for the LEADER programme, an expanded town and village renewal scheme and the Tidy Towns scheme, the Western Development Commission, implementation of the report of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas, the dormant accounts fund, and social enterprise.
The Taoiseach said he will chair a dedicated Cabinet committee on regional and rural affairs, to provide for effective monitoring of delivery and clearer co-ordination across all policy areas that affect rural Ireland.
Responding to a Dail question from Galway West, Fianna Fail TD Éamon Ó Cuív, Ms Humphreys said she will not have responsibility for rural transport or school transport.
“Rural transport remains in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport but I will be co-ordinating all of the Departments in terms of the focus on rural Ireland.”
However, she will have responsibility for rural recreation, including the walks scheme.
She said she has already been working closely with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to advance delivery of key elements of the national broadband plan, and to accelerate and prioritise the roll-out of the programme in rural areas.
Minister Humphreys is the sister of Bert Stewart, who was returned unopposed as IFA’s Ulster/North Leinster chairman in April.
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