Equality at the Heart of Agriculture and Rural Development
The Sinn Féin Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew MP MLA, has underlined how equality issues will be at the heart of her future work.
The Minister was commenting as she issued an equality impact assessment paper on the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme (RDP), 2007-13, for public consultation.
Ms Gildernew said:
"People who work in agriculture and live in rural areas have a right to be treated equally and I am keen to ensure that this issue is at the heart of the department's work.
"DARD's approach to equality, in specifically targeting section 75 groups and ensuring that they are aware of the new Rural Development Programme is a positive step in the right direction.
"The new Â£500million rural development programme, which was recently approved by the European Union, is for everyone who lives in a rural community, and I want everyone to benefit from this programme.
"As well as farmers this very much includes minority ethnic groups, people living with disabilities and people of all sexual orientation.
"The new RDP has real potential to bring positive change for rural people and communities in terms of equality and this consultation paper sets out our initial assessment of how that potential could best be realised and achieved.
"The RDP has three complementary Axis or themes, supported by Axis 4. Axis 1 and 2 will help the industry to be more competitive, and develop a more sustainable environment. Axis 3 will seek to improve the quality of life for rural people and to strengthen the rural economy. As such, it probably has the most potential to achieve positive equality benefit to rural communities as a whole."
The Minister added:
"Infrastructure, services and information also need to be made as accessible in rural areas as they are in urban areas in order to reduce disadvantage and feelings of remoteness inherent in rural areas."
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has used an outreach approach as part of the pre consultation for the Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) and has engaged positively with a wide spectrum of equality groups.
The new outreach approach which was adopted by DARD in developing the new Rural Development Programme is endorsed by a range of groups including Monica Wilson, Chief Executive of Disability Action, who praised the Department for its 'full consultation and commitment to developing relations with disadvantaged groups'.
In addition, Anna Lo MLA, commended DARD on taking positive steps to engage with ethnic minority groups by meeting with communities to discuss issues that impact on them. She said: "I will be very keen to see this engagement to continue in the future and that this positive work will lead to action and outcomes".
Rita Wild, Lesbian Advocacy Services Initiative (LASI) said: "We are very encouraged by the pro-active approach that DARD officials have taken in relation to the Rural Development Programme EQIA and we look forward to working closely with DARD to ensure that the challenge of delivering genuine inclusion is fully met by the RDP".
The consultation period lasts for 12 weeks and the closing date for responses is 2 November 2007. Responses may be made in writing, by e-mail, or by telephone.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
In compliance with Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, an Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) is required on all new policies and programmes. In assessing the impact of the new Rural Development Programme (RDP), 2007-13, DARD is required to promote equality of opportunity between the nine Section 75 groups and, in addition, promote good relations between persons of different religions, political opinion and racial group.
There are three main Axis of the RDP:
- Improving the competitiveness of the agricultural and forestry sector;
- Improving the environment and the countryside;
- The quality of life in rural areas and diversification of the rural economy.
Implementation of the Leader approach-locally based delivery for some measures.
- Axis 1 Measures focus on a wide section of the agri/food/forestry sector. It is hoped that ultimately the benefits of a more competitive farming industry will also be felt by farm families and the wider rural community.
- Axis 2 Measures are designed to protect and enhance Northern Irelandâ€™s natural resources and landscapes in rural areas. At this stage, it is not anticipated that there will be any differential or negative equality impacts created as a result of the environmental, forestry and less favoured areas measures that make up this Axis.
- Axis 3 Measures are designed to strengthen the social and economic infrastructure of the entire rural community and therefore have the potential to provide benefits across all the equality categories identified under Section 75. In the last RDP, there was a focus on women, young people and farm families. These groups will continue to be targeted, but now alongside all equality groups as part of commitments to a range of key cross-cutting government equality strategies.