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Defending Rural Ireland - Michelle O'Neill

13 April, 2013 - by Michelle O'Neill

I am delighted to be opening the section on Defending Rural Ireland. It has never been more important to ensure our rural communities and farmers are protected from the attacks from this current coalition government in Dublin, the Tory led administration in Britain and the bureaucrats in Brussels.

As I said earlier, agriculture and our rural communities are the backbone of Irish society therefore they are worth defending. Sinn Fein’s ‘Love Rural Ireland’ campaign has been rolling out across the country and I as the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development in the North have been doing all I can to defend and promote our rural industries, particularly agriculture and to enhance the quality of life and rights of our rural communities. In recent times our rural communities have been decimated by emigration.

Daily thousands of our young people are getting on planes to search for work abroad leaving our countryside largely devoid of youth with many GAA teams barely able to field teams. This needs to be addressed urgently. In the north I am investing £500 million through our Rural Development Programme in order that we can create employment in rural areas, invest in rural businesses and invest in rural tourism to create jobs. In addition we must tackle rural poverty and isolation.

Sinn Féin has introduced a Tackling rural Poverty Strategy and has invested £26 million into initiatives to address this and we are making a difference to some of the most vulnerable and isolated in our rural communities.

No such initiative exists in the 26 counties and it is an issue that Sinn Féin will be challenging the FG/Labour coalition to introduce. In addition Sinn Féin in the north has introduced a Rural White Paper, which increases the rights of rural people across government and gives me as Rural Development minister the ability to hold all government departments to account in terms of their delivery to rural areas of the North.

These next few months are going be crucial for agriculture in Ireland with the Common Agricultural Policy negotiations coming to a conclusion hopefully by June. I have always argued for a well funded, flexible and less bureaucratic CAP that also protects the rights of small and medium farmers.

So far in the negotiations we have made some significant advances however there still many difficult issues yet to be resolved and I have consistently argued and promoted a Team Ireland approach to the negotiations.

I have worked closely with Simon Coveney and all of our 15 Irish MEPs and encouraged our farming unions across Ireland to use their collective influence in Europe so that we all can defend Ireland’s farming industry from the attacks on the budget from the Tory government in Britain and bureaucrats in Brussels.

It is also an important time for our fishermen. We have the on-going annual haggle each December of quota and days at sea which is a ridiculous way of doing business and we also have major reform of the Common Fisheries Policy coming to a conclusion.

I share the frustration of our fishermen on how this current policy has operated and I am pushing hard for more local control in the new policy that will allow us to shape our regulations to more suit the needs of Irish fishermen rather than the super trawlers from the continent.

In the north Sinn Féin is delivering for rural communities:

• £500 million in creating and protecting rural jobs and agriculture.

• Investing in rural childcare with 801 newly created childcare places and 178 new jobs.

• Investing an additional £6 million in rural broadband.

• Investing in rural transport with almost 150,000 trips funded in the first 16 months of the scheme.

• Investing in tackling fuel poverty with 1000 rural homes receiving insulation.

• Delivering a water bore well scheme giving isolated rural homes access to mains water for the first time.

In Government Sinn Féin delivers in defending rural Ireland.... we challenge the government in the south to do likewise.

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