The need for strategic local planning and development in the next RDP to tackle emigration and youth unemployment across rural Ireland was highlighted this week by Teagasc.

David Meredith, Teagasc rural development researcher, spoke at a public consultation event on the new RDP, organised by the Department of the Environment in Tullamore.

In his presentation he stressed its research shows that rural Ireland is diverse, integrated and divergent.

“Together these features present very complex challenges in designing and delivering operational programmes. It is critical that we identify the appropriate geographic scale for intervention. It is critical that community, local and relational and national development strategies align. It is also critical that we recognise that not all places are at the same point in terms of their development and their potential,” he outlined at the event.

Meredith spoke on a tale of two rural Ireland’s.

The past 20 years have seen flows of people and households out of the cities and many towns into the surrounding countryside, a process commonly referred to as counter-urbanisation but in Ireland it would be more appropriate to call it ex-urbanisation, he said.

Teagasc research has shown that less accessible and remote rural areas have not fared as well as accessible areas. “The decline in traditional industries combined with a general inability to retain or attract sufficient population has denuded the critical social and economic capacity of these places, particularly through the process of youth migration.”

He continued: “In some places the denuding of human capacity has resulted in a limited capacity to act on the part of locals.”

This has left these areas with relatively weak industrial structures exposed to consolidation of various economic sectors, for example farming and food processing, high levels of persistent unemployment and emigration, the Teagasc rural development analysis said.

He also noted that migration of rural areas to cities and not just emigration was also at play, in particular in the areas of Galway, Limerick, Cork, Dublin and Waterford.

Meredith stressed that youth unemployment was of considerable concern. Youth unemployment in Ireland currently stands at 30 per cent, he said, noting it was nine per cent in 2007.

“Ireland has one of the highest rates of young people who are not in education, not in employment and not in training in the EU at 21 per cent. These figures suggest a need to develop alternative pathways to education outside of the current formal third-level structures,” he said.

Teagasc research has also found that unemployed young people in rural areas are more likely to emigrate.

“People without higher levels of education or who have ties to a place, ie their partner is in employment, they own a house, they have other family responsibilities, cannot move. These ties grow or intensify with age. There is now a need to consider not only youth initiatives.”