Rural development is the term used to describe the economic infrastructure and social network development of rural areas.
The Irish Government is committed to implementing a strategy for rural development on the basis of an inclusive approach to sustainable development, the integration of policies, a regional dimension and partnership with the rural community.
A number of initiatives are currently in place in Ireland to assist in the economic and social development of rural communities. They include the Rural Development Programme (RDP) for Ireland 2007-2013, The Leader Programme, The Western Development Commission and The RAPID and CLÁR programmes.
The RDP has four strands known as axis:

• Axis 1: Improving the Competitiveness of the agricultural sector
• Axis2: Improving the environment and the countryside
• Axis 3: Quality of life in rural areas and diversification of the rural economy
• Axis: Implementation of the LEADER Approach

The four axes refer to headings under which measures or activities are grouped. Axes 1, 2, and 3 reflect strategic objectives at both EU and National levels, competitiveness, Environment & Land Management and rural Economic Diversification & Quality of Life respectively. They are informed closely by the EU Lisbon Agenda on competitiveness and the Gothenburg Agenda on Sustainability, as well as declarations and policy statements on rural development. The National strategy and programme are closely linked to objectives within the National Development Plan and takes account of the Agri- vision 2015 Action Plan as well as other policies on Agriculture, Sustainability and Rural Development here in Ireland. As can be seen from the diagram there are common features across the framework relating to funding mechanisms and rules, evaluation criteria, management systems and a common networking forum, the National Rural Network. In Ireland the Network Rural Network will be provided by the Rural Development Support Unit (RDSU) based in Tipperary Institute.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – as the managing authority – and the RDP Monitoring Committee will have responsibility for the monitoring and evaluation of the Programme. This process will take account of the EU common monitoring and evaluation framework (CMEF). On-going monitoring and evaluation work will be carried out by the implementing Departments – Agriculture, Fisheries & Food and Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Its scope and nature will be determined by the CMEF requirements and the deliberations of the Monitoring Committee. An annual Report must be made to the EU Commission for the duration of the Programme and in addition independent evaluations must be carried out midway through the programme and following its completion.

The Irish RDP, in common with all other member states, incorporates a networking forum which embraces the four axes of the Programme. This forum is known as the National Rural Network.

The National Rural Network is a component of the Rural Development Programme for Ireland 2007-2013 (RDP) (PDF Document) which was approved by the European Commission in July 2007 and is based on the EU funding framework for Agriculture and Rural Development. This European-wide framework, which is called the EARDF (European Agriculture and Rural Development Fund), requires each country to submit a rural development strategy which they subsequently translate into a practical programme with measures, funding allocations, targets and mechanisms for delivery. The EU funds differing proportions towards different measures, so from a total programme budget of €5.8 Billion the EU is contributing just over 40%. Diagram 1, which is based on the EARDF guidelines, illustrates the framework.

The Priorities of the National Rural Network in Ireland
The purpose of the National Rural Network is to assist in the efficient and effective implementation of the Rural Development Programme. It will operate across all axes and will seek to promote synergies across measures, encouraging individuals and organisations to work together and expand the possibilities available to farmers and rural development practitioners. The NRN will have a key role in supporting stakeholders to address issues of common and pressing concern. Issues which effect farm income and the future of rural communities. Global issues such as climate change which are having a real impact on how we can live and farm. These issues will be addressed in a comprehensive manner focusing on practical opportunities and challenges. They will be addressed by people with a real understanding of the situation “on the ground” and will be directed toward those who can best move things forward. The NRN will seek to develop relationships between stakeholders based on a common interest in building a dynamic and sustainable future for Agriculture and Rural Development.

The NRN will need to take into account the differences between the measures, their objectives, participants and approaches. The administrations and organisations involved in the delivery of Axes 1 and 2 are quiet different to the organisations responsible for Axes 3 and 4. On the whole the clients are different and indeed the axes are overseen by different Government Departments. While in some ways this is a challenge it also presents opportunities in time to build new relationships and creativity.

A significant focus of the work of the NRN will be to secure and co-ordinate the flow of information, including performance indicators, between local beneficiaries, intermediate bodies and the managing authority. There is also a strong emphasis on documenting and disseminating best practice across the four axes and in linking with the NRN in other member states and centrally at EU level.

Functions of the Network
The functions of the Network are clearly defined in the EU regulations, and the Rural Development Programme for Ireland and can be summarised as follows:
• The identification and grouping of stakeholders involved in agriculture and rural development programme
• Transfer of knowledge and best practice to beneficiaries through dissemination actions and exchange experiences
• The convening of relevant seminars, conventions and workshops to ensure the use of best practice in programme delivery
• Development of a state-of-the-art website; development of project and statistical databases including ability to capture performance indicators at each level of the hierarchy
• Publication of regular updates on programme delivery to as wide an audience as possible. Such publications should be harmonised with and complement those prepared under the Communications plan, particularly in relation to bringing the programme to the attention of the wider general public.
• As well as complementing the work of the Communication plan, the output of the network should also feed directly into the annual reports and other formal presentations of the managing authorities
• The collection and analysis of indicators and evidence-based programme outputs should feed directly into the mid-term and final programme evaluations. This activity is a core function of the network
• The provision of a comprehensive information service to groups and organisations when requested
• Facilitating and promoting inter-territorial and trans-national cooperation in relation to the delivery of Axes 3 and 4. The network must have the capacity to develop the co-operation principle, provide regulatory advice and offer appropriate mentoring
• Representing Ireland on the proposed European Network for Rural Development and other relevant fora and promotion of the rural development programme nationally and abroad. ;

Ireland Rural Development National Strategy Plan 2007-2013
Leader Programme
Rural Development Programme Ireland 2007-2013
Western Development Commission