Fianna Fáil TD for Offaly Barry Cowen says the Government must focus on promoting growth in all regions of the country, including the Midlands.

Deputy Cowen made the comments after it was revealed that Minister Simon Coveney is currently considering different options for what will eventually replace the current National Spatial Strategy.

“The current National Spatial Strategy is due to expire in 2020 and the Government is currently considering what it will replace it with. It has been indicated that Minister Coveney intends to focus on cities and large towns as growth areas. I’m concerned that small towns, villages and other rural areas will end up being left behind by this Government,” said Deputy Cowen.

“Our cities are already struggling to cope with the large rise in population that they have experienced in recent years. Infrastructure is creaking under increasing demand and a lack of investment by Fine Gael has made the matter worse. It’s clear that an infrastructure development plan is needed, but the Government should be cautious not to place a disproportionate emphasis on Dublin and Cork.

“The replacement for the National Spatial Strategy must set forward a credible plan for developing our small towns and villages. I believe the plan must put in place a new mechanism to group a number of towns together with the aim of developing a common development strategy. For example, Athlone, Mullingar and Tullamore should have a joint development plant to promote growth. This plan should place a special emphasis on developing infrastructure such as improved broadband and transport services.

“The new plan should coincide with the ongoing review of the national capital investment plan. Both plans must be signing off the same hymn sheet in order to achieve growth in all regions, including the Midlands.

“The previous Fine Gael led Government caused untold damage to rural Ireland by exclusively focusing on developing our cities. Minister Coveney needs to be careful that he does not repeat the mistakes of his predecessor. We must achieve an Ireland for all, not just one for the cities of Dublin and Cork,” said Deputy Cowen.