One of the core commitments of rural development is to ensure social integration whereby all people get the opportunity to realise their full human potential. Despite this, there is still poor regard given to how people live and work in rural areas and how economic and social policies impact on their quality of life. Using the example of the Republic of Ireland, this paper explores how rural development policies are being undermined by other policy instruments (specifically transport) which have a contradictory impact and, rather than relieve rural disadvantage, further compound the exclusion of some sectors of rural society. Assessing rural development and transport policy instruments; trends emerging from the most recent 2002 Census Data; and case study evidence relating to the rural transport initiative (RTI) in the Republic of Ireland, this paper confirms the lack of integrated policy thinking and in some circumstances the exacerbation of further rural disadvantage. (c) 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.