Galway TD Claire Kerrane has introduced a Rural Equality Bill which aims to guarantee equal investment and consideration for rural Ireland by public bodies.
The bill would require public bodies to develop a Rural Impact Scheme which would require them to assess the socio-economic impact measures they adopt would have on rural Ireland.
Public bodies would also be required by the bill to look at exercising their function in a manner that is designed to “reduce the inequalities suffered by those in rural Ireland” resulting from socio-economic disadvantage.
Deputy Kerrane said that it is more important than ever to ensure that rural Ireland receives equal investment and services as COVID-19 has seen people moving a way from urban areas.
The Sinn Féin said that “certainly the first time in my lifetime” people are moving away from cities to move towards towns and villages.
“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.”
The Rural Equality Bill was introduced to the Oireachtas on February 17, and is currently at the second stage in the Dáil.
It is all but identical to a bill introduced by Sinn Féin Sligo-Leitrim TD Martin Kenny in 2017, which was voted down at the second stage.
The only difference in the text of the two bills is that the 2021 version specifies the Minister for Rural and Community Development, as opposed to the Minister for Agriculture.
Deputy Kerrane said that requiring bodies like the IDA and Enterprise Ireland to carry out rural impact assessments for their measures is about “fair play and equality”, and accused previous governments of neglecting rural Ireland.
“Many never recovered from the 2008 economic crash – services were taken away, jobs were lost and never replaced, towns became derelict and businesses closed.”
“The consequences of this neglect has 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.”
“We have an opportunity with increased access to funding from Europe between now and 2027 during which time the EU will contribute €60 for every €100 invested in the West and North West. We need to take full advantage of this.”