Fine Gael MEP Colm Markey has told the European Parliament that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a unique opportunity to reinvent and reimagine rural communities. He was speaking during a debate on Thursday with the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Janusz Wojciechowski on the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas.
Commenting afterwards, the Midlands North West MEP said, “Generations of skilled and talented people have left rural areas to pursue opportunities elsewhere. The pandemic has taught us that many can remain in their own communities by taking advantage of remote or blended working. We can reverse the ‘brain drain’ and turn it into the ‘brain gain’. Attracting young people back to their villages could make an enormous impact on community and economic life but the correct infrastructure must be in place such as remote working hubs and broadband. It is crucial that the National Broadband Plan continues with urgency so that every home, farm and business in the country is connected.”
“We also need to look at ways to revitalise our towns and villages. A retrofitting programme, for example, would see many derelict buildings restored and allow for ‘over-the-shop’ accommodation. This could be achieved through the EU’s new ‘renovation wave’, which aims to make buildings more energy efficient. It is one of a number of schemes that could be blended together to breathe life back into our towns and villages. Now is the time to embrace the green and digital transition and create desirable places for people to live, work and visit.”
Colm Markey added that the EU Green deal has already presented economic opportunities.
“Renewable energy, for example, is win-win for rural Ireland. In August, contacts were approved for 63 solar and 19 wind projects under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme. The projects are expected to create about 10,500 constructions jobs and 1,100 additional permanent jobs in rural Ireland. The RESS is crucial to achieving the EU-wide renewable energy target of 32% by 2030 and I look forward to further approvals in the months and years ahead.”
Markey concluded, “The current crisis has shown us that there is a different way of doing things and we can re-set the clock”.