Rural Needs Act must be fully implemented - McAleer
Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on rural affairs Declan McAleer has called for the full implementation of the Rural Needs Act to ensure equal access to services and opportunities for people living in rural areas.
Mr McAleer said “The Rural Needs Act, which became law in 2016 places a statutory duty on public authorities to have ‘due regard’ to rural needs when making policies and delivering services. It also places a duty on public authorities to compile information on the exercise of its functions under the Act and report this annually to DAERA.
“The Act was a recognition that there are particular challenges faced by rural communities in areas such as transport and accessing essential services. Indeed, the recently published EU Farm Structure Survey 2016 which revealed that almost a third of farmers are without internet access is further evidence that there are inequalities in rural areas.
“The Rural Needs Act was the culmination of years of hard work by rural stakeholders, the former DARD committee and the department under the leadership of the then Agriculture Minister Michelle O Neill. The passing of this act made the north the first region of Europe to enshrine rural proofing in law.
“There are approximately 40 public authorities listed on the Rural Needs Act, including all government departments and the 11 district councils across the north. These bodies have had the past year to get themselves prepared for the Act which came into operation on 1st June 2017.
“Given the critical importance of the Rural Needs Act to the future and well-being of an estimated 670,000 people who live in rural communities across the north, I have written to all of the public authorities listed on the Act for a progress update on what they have been doing to implement the act in their respective organisation.
“While I am under no illusion that the Rural Needs Act will address all of the structural inequalities that have existed for generations in rural areas, my colleagues and I in Sinn Féin feel very strongly that the Rural Needs Act, if robustly implemented, will go a long way to address the issues and challenges faced by rural dwellers.
“The Act has the potential to create a more fair and equitable rural society and underlines Sinn Féin’s commitment to safeguarding the rights of rural citizens."