‘We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’: Rural Equality Bill 2021 introduced in the Dáil

Sinn Féin has today (Wednesday, February 17) introduced the Rural Equality Bill 2021 in the Dáil.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on rural development Claire Kerrane, who introduced it along with deputies Martin Kenny and Martin Browne, said that this bill is “especially timely”.

‘Once in a lifetime opportunity’

“For certainly the first time in my lifetime, we are seeing a move from urban to rural with people and families leaving cities to settle in rural communities,” she said.

“With this, we need to ensure adequate investment and services follow to support and sustain rural towns and villages.

We have a once in a lifetime opportunity post-Covid to get this right. That means a united approach with all key stakeholders on board to make this happen.

“This bill is about fair play and equality for rural areas; it would ensure that all public bodies, including all government departments, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland have due regard for rural Ireland by producing rural impact assessments on their measures, especially where such measures might have a significant socio-economic impact on rural Ireland.”

The deputy added that many rural towns and villages “never recovered from the 2008 economic crash”, along with having been neglected “for decades”.

‘This has not happened by accident’

“Services were taken away, jobs were lost and never replaced, towns became derelict and businesses closed,” she continued.

“The consequences of this neglect [have] been highlighted by the EU Commission in the case of the west and north-west region in downgrading it from a developed region to a region in transition because when it comes to investment in jobs, infrastructure and education, we are at the bottom of the table.

“This has not happened by accident.

I hope that all deputies will take this opportunity to support our rural communities in backing this bill.

Sligo-Leitrim TD Martin Kenny said that it needs to be realised that rural Ireland is “developing and changing”.

‘Often seen as an afterthought’

“It’s not happening because of government policy – it’s in spite of it,” deputy Kenny said.

“I think of the school buses as a prime example of where we see children who live in rural Ireland cannot get the same access to transport to go to school – the most basic need and right that they have as a citizen.”

He added that currently, what is in place, is a “mish-mash of services and a mish-mash of investment” in rural areas

Tipperary TD Martin Browne said that rural Ireland is “often seen as an afterthought when it comes to investment, or else the first in line when it comes to withdrawal of services”.