Speaking in response to Minister Alan Kelly’s announcement this morning of the Village and Town Renewal Scheme Fianna Fáil Environment Spokesperson Barry Cowen TD said the scheme as presenter was simply too little too late.
“The government has ignored, neglected and slashed services to rural Ireland. It closed 139 Garda stations, slashed LEADER funding by 40%, eroded the post office network and stalled the roll out of rural broadband. It has done nothing for the businesses that are struggling with the burden of commercial rates. Based on his presentation this morning, Alan Kelly plans to continue this approach. This initiative is more about re-election than rural Ireland,” said Deputy Cowen.
Speaking at the National Ploughing Championship, Deputy Cowen stated “€30m represents a sticking plaster approach to the problems affecting rural Ireland. The government believes that by throwing a token cheque at a massive problem it can buy re-election. In what has become a well-worn routine from Alan Kelly, this plan is more about PR stunts than actually engaging with the deeper problems that are hollowing out towns the length and breadth of Ireland”.
“We need new thinking to revitalise our towns and villages. Minister Alan Kelly simply doesn’t have it. Irish towns are facing a grave challenge to their position as the heart of their areas. Spiralling vacancy rates scar main streets; anti-social behaviour intimidates ordinary people from enjoying their streets while poor planning robs the areas of vitality.
“Fianna Fáil published “Streets Ahead” our detailed policy document outlining our plans for the future of Irish Towns earlier this year. We will establish town teams to lead the way in transforming each town, reform commercial rates to re-balance the system toward small and town centre retailers. We want to look at the whole area of building usage and implement an ‘Empty Shops Initiative’ to ensure no units are left empty, abolish upward only rent reviews and have new cultural initiatives in place to keep main streets busy.
“Our Streets Ahead plan is the kind of new thinking the country needs for rural towns and villages, not the belated sticking plaster approach of a government more interested in re-election than in rural Ireland,” Deputy Cowen concluded.