Agri Aware have launched a programme to try and boast enterprise and development in rural Ireland. The focus of growth by the government is on gateway cities. Is there a danger that rural Ireland could fall further behind?
As farming has declined in recent years, young people are less inclined to go into the traditional farming occupations.
According to Waterford man and economist Jim Power, rural areas are struggling and have been denuded of their young people. The building boom of the last few years was a boost for rural economies but now that this has tailed off, rural workers must look for other occupations.
The south east of Ireland is one of the worst performing regions in the country in terms of jobs incomes and economic development. Incomes here are 11 per cent below the national average according to CSO statistics.
The border areas have done well with the peace process, the midlands closeness to the Dublin region have given them an economic boost, but the south east is still seeking a university and more infrastructure.
Agri Aware want to see more broadband in rural areas. Waterford has 20 per cent broadband coverage, Kilkenny 13 pc and Tipperary 11 pc. This is very low compared to Dublin at 32 pc and is well below international averages. This broadband penetration needs to be prioritised by government, mobile phone coverage is another weak area.
You only have to drive to Dunhill or along the coast road of Waterford to see how bad mobile coverage can be. Dunhill is a great example of rural development, where people have got together, built a business park and now there are many new businesses running successfully from there.
Better infrastructure is essential for rural development. Waterford has always had an access problem, this is now being corrected to some extent with the city bypass and the dual carriageway to Dublin.
Electronic infrastructure also needs improving and more pressure on the telecom operators is needed for these gaps to be addressed.
Objections to phone masts and the like may have been an issue in the past. In this era of globalisation, rural communities should not be ignored.
The internet can open new job opportunities, a new rural community utilising the web can open up new avenues. More encouragement by enterprise agencies for rural development and getting them the technology so that they can compete on an equal basis is required.