Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill has said there is a requirement to safeguard the needs of rural communities through statute.
Minister O’Neill was speaking as she introduced the Rural Needs Bill in the Assembly. The Bill will enhance the current rural proofing arrangements by giving a statutory footing to the requirement for policy makers in central government to consider the needs of rural dwellers when developing and implementing policies and when designing and delivering public services and will extend this requirement to local government.
She said: “Although the Executive has been committed to undertaking rural proofing since 2002, I believe there is more that we can do to improve the effectiveness of this process and demonstrate government’s commitment to helping all citizens enjoy equitable treatment, regardless of where they live.
“It is my view that placing rural proofing on a statutory footing will help ensure that the consideration of rural needs is embedded within government’s policy making and service delivery, thus safeguarding the needs of our rural communities.
“The Rural Needs Bill is important legislation which I believe will promote a fair and inclusive rural society. It not only places a statutory duty on all central government departments and local councils to consider rural needs, but also requires them to compile, and make available in an open and transparent manner, information on how they have met that duty.
“The Bill provides a statutory basis for DARD to support rural proofing through the provision of information and guidance, and for arrangements to be put in place to enable public authorities to co-operate with each other and share information, which will help ensure a more consistent and cohesive approach to addressing rural needs.”
The Minister added: “I firmly believe that, when enacted, the Bill will provide an important opportunity to support thriving and sustainable rural communities and, at this time of unprecedented financial constraints, will ensure that decisions about the allocation of financial resources are as well informed as possible.”