Today (Saturday) I joined An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD,  and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney TD as they outlined Fine Gael’s proposals to support rural Ireland, as part of Fine Gael’s Long Term Economic Plan to keep the recovery going. Highlights include:

·          The roll out of the Regional Action Plan for Jobs to drive local job creation and bring down unemployment to under 7% in all regions

·          Implementation of Foodwise 2025 strategy to increase agri-food industry exports by 85% to €19 billion by 2025 and deliver 23,000 new jobs

·          €4 billion Rural Development Programme

·          Implementation of €300 million invested in taxation measures to encourage greater mobility and opportunity in the agri-food sector

·          National broadband coverage of 85% by 2018 and full coverage by 2020

·          New business opportunities for local post office network

Speaking during a visit to Richardson’s farm in Carlow today, An Taoiseach said:

“Rural Ireland is critical to Fine Gael’s plan to keep the recovery going.  The plan has three steps: more and better jobs; making work pay; and sensible investment in our public services like healthcare, transport and infrastructure.

“ More jobs are at the centre of our Long Term Economic Plan for Ireland. More jobs will provide opportunity and a life for our people at home. The continued growth of our world class agriculture sector is an essential part of our plan to keep recovery going for rural Ireland.   The Foodwise 2025 strategy alone will increase exports by 85% to €19 billion by 2025 which will create 23,000 new jobs in rural Ireland.  We will grow those exports by expanding the dairy, beef, seafood and consumer food-and-drinks sectors.

“Fianna Fáil deserted rural Ireland. The agri-food sector was treated as a ‘sunset industry’, agricultural colleges were threatened with closure as young farmers were encouraged to ditch their family business and take up jobs in construction instead. As a result exports fell by 17% under Fianna Fáil. With 300,000 jobs lost under Micheal Martin’s watch, many parents across the country saw their sons and daughters depart our shores to the UK, Australia, Canada and the US. In our long-term plan to keep the recovery going and create 200,000 jobs, Fine Gael wants to give them the opportunity to come home.

“Fine Gael believes that work must pay for our farmers, fishermen, foresters and small food processors, most of whom are self-employed. The average farming family have already seen their tax bills fall by €800 a year with our cuts to USC and reforms for the self-employed.  Farmers are best positioned to benefit from Fine Gael’s plan to completely abolish the USC and ending the discrimination of the self-employed in the tax system.

“With a strong agriculture sector and a strong economy we can put the recovery to work by investing in new public services across the country.  Fine Gael is determined to stop the decline in our post office network and will pursue new business opportunities to help our post offices thrive again. We are also committed to ensuring that patients throughout the country continue to have access to GP Services, especially in remote rural areas and that general practice remains sustainable in such areas into the future.

“Rural communities and businesses have a choice; between those who treated agriculture as a sunset industry, or a Government that has put agriculture back at the top of the economic agenda. Fine Gael has a Long Term Economic Plan to keep the recovery going for rural Ireland based on three simple steps; more and better jobs; making work pay and investing in better services.”