Understandings of Rural Development challenged in new book by NUI Galway expert
Friday, 8 March 2002
Irish rural society has an image of being isolated, poverty-stricken and marginalised. However, the nature of rural areas, and particularly that of rural development, is being "rethought" and "redefined" throughout Europe. A new book by NUI, Galway expert, Dr John McDonagh, Renegotiating Rural Development in Ireland, explores this "redefining" of rural development and the implications this has for the future sustainability of rural communities in Ireland.
The book, which was officially launched today (Monday, 25 February), in NUI, Galway by Eamon Ó Cúiv TD, Minister for State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, challenges different perceptions about rural life while deconstructing current processes and practices utilised in this complex arena.
Dr McDonagh states that a new form of governance is required in order to achieve a collective benefit that is unobtainable through current practices of groups acting either independently or in isolation. Dr McDonagh states: "The premise of this book is that rural Ireland does not have a democratic ethos under which it can develop greater self-reliance … where local communities can participate genuinely in the decision-making process."
Throughout the book Dr McDonagh suggests that current methods need to be drastically overhauled in order for rural communities to survive. He argues that there has been a perception that EU-funded initiatives such as LEADER have been the driving force behind development but in reality these programmes often do not get to the core of what is required.
As such, there is a need for a renegotiation of the methods of funding and implementation of rural development projects, as well as a need for greater input and influence from the rural communities affected by, and involved in, these projects. In particular the book argues for new methods of rural management that are more than merely partnerships between governmental and non-governmental groups fulfilling a set of funding criteria.
"While there has been a perceptible shift in recent years from the top down policy to a more bottom-up partnership approach," says Dr McDonagh, "rural communities in Ireland still have only limited influence on the development process." He argues that the reluctance of successive Irish governments to alter the administrative and institutional capacities of the state has given rise to the perception that these programmes are effective. However, in many cases these programmes and projects are not meeting the requirements of rural people and this goal is only attainable through the integration of government and EU programmes with the input and needs of rural communities.
Dr McDonagh further argues that there is a need for greater understanding of what rural development is all about; "what people want from rural areas; whether people will accept trade-offs between rural and urban living and whether problems in rural areas can be dealt with exclusively through some specific rural development strategy or rural-oriented planning".
Information: Máire Mhic Uidhir, Press Officer, NUI, Galway. Tel: 091 750418