That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act Bill to provide that regard be had by public bodies to the desirability of reducing socio-economic and other inequalities suffered by those in rural Ireland, to provide for the carrying out of rural impact assessments in respect of measures that are likely to have a significant socio-economic impact or effect on rural Ireland and to provide for related matters.
Everybody in this Chamber, particularly rural Deputies, makes reference to the terrible economic situation of rural Ireland.
The purpose of this Bill is, in part, to deal with the unequal treatment of people in rural areas and to put in place legislation to protect rural communities. There is much talk about attention to rural areas and the country people of Ireland but precious little funding, resources or care are being provided to areas of this country located outside of the cities. Every day, we hear of further cuts to, or the abolition of, services in rural areas and of the effect this is having on communities. Deputy Durkan referred earlier to the isolation and fear factor among people living in rural areas as a consequence of the closure of rural Garda stations. The actions of successive Governments, in terms of the closure of Garda stations, shows a lack of understanding on their part of the effect of this measure on the most vulnerable in our society. Last night, I attended an IFA meeting in Kilkenny, during which a member of the audience spoke of how on three occasions his house had been broken into and he had been terrorised. He made the point that all of this came about because there was no Garda presence in his area.
We are all aware of the impact of the closure of post offices on people in rural communities. I have heard several Deputies from the Government and Opposition benches speak about the social consequences of the closure of rural post offices, which are often the only point of connection in a community for elderly people, on the grounds that they are not viable and so forth. With a little imagination, rural-proofing and political will, all of these issues could be dealt with.
Also of concern is the lack of transport in rural communities, which again impacts on the most vulnerable, including the many young people trying to get work in the morning who are not in a position to afford a car. For many elderly people, their only mode of connecting with the community was through rural transport but it has now been taken from them. The most affected areas in terms of a lack of rural transport, post office and Garda station closures and so on are coastal communities, including west Mayo in the Taoiseach's county. This has led to emigration and the closure of almost all of the small shops in rural areas. Again with a little imagination and rural-proofing, this could be reversed.
The purpose of this Bill is to initiate debate on the need to ensure protection of our rural communities and to bring about equality for people living in rural Ireland. I am sure the Taoiseach is so concerned about rural Ireland he will be only too glad to support this Bill.