INVESTMENT in rural Ireland will be decimated under spending plans announced by the Government.
A cocktail of the end of European Union supports, a closure of farm improvement packages and prioritisation of urban infrastructure, will see the budget earmarked for rural areas reduced significantly.
In agricultural development, capital spending will go from €274 million this year to €40m a year every year from 2012 to 2016.
This has been affected by the cessation of the farm waste management scheme.
Decentralisation, which aimed to move 10,000 civil servants out of Dublin, has been shelved.
The Leader programme, designed to help rural groups produce business and development strategies, will only be funded until European money runs out in 2013.
The Clár programme, which paid for small-scale stimulus projects in isolated communities, will be ended. This had spent €59m in the last three years boosting poor rural economies.
The forestry sector, which employs 16,000 people in rural areas, will see its annual budget drop 19% from €104m this year.
This is despite a Government pledge to increase the amount of land being used for forestry.
Last week Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith launched a strategy document which claimed the value of Irish agriculture could be increased by €1.5bn before 2020.
This plan said the department should continue to support investment in sheep-handling facilities, should target investment at green infrastructure and develop the forest road network and infrastructure.
Irish Farmers’ Association president John Bryan said the revised investment plan was at odds with this Food Harvest 2020 strategy.
He said even with the ending of the once-off Farm Waste Management scheme, it was still a significant hit for farming communities.
“The annual allocation of €40m for the Development of Agriculture and Food from 2012 onwards is insufficient to achieve the opportunities for growth in output, value added and exports identified in the Food Harvest  report. Investment is required for farm modernisation and efficiency, which is crucial to the future viability of farming.”
Fine Gael’s agriculture spokesman, Andrew Doyle, said while he did not believe in spending for spending’s sake, there was nothing in the Government’s plan which would stimulate the farming sector or rural economies.
He said the lack of financial commitment in strategic programmes after 2012 meant the 2020 plan would be “cut off at its knees” before it began.
The Department of Agriculture said it spent €1.5bn on the Farm Waste Management scheme between 2007 and 2012 and this warped the figures.
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