That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act 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.
I am delighted to introduce this Bill as a Member who is lucky enough to live in rural County Roscommon and to represent rural towns and villages right across counties Roscommon and Galway. The Bill is especially timely as, certainly for the first time in my lifetime, we are seeing a move from urban to rural. People are leaving cities and moving to rural areas. With that, we need to ensure that investment and services are put in place to support those people moving into rural areas and to sustain those communities. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity post Covid to get this right and that means a united approach with all key stakeholders on board to make this happen. The Bill is about fair play and equality for rural areas. It would ensure that all public bodies, including every Department, have due regard for rural areas by obliging them to detail and produce rural impact assessments on their measures and actions.
No Member of this House can deny that rural Ireland has been disadvantaged for many decades. Many towns and villages never recovered from the 2008 crash. Services were taken away, businesses were closed, jobs were lost and never replaced and towns became derelict. The consequences of this neglect were highlighted by the EU Commission when it downgraded the west and north-west region from a developed region to a region in transition because, when it comes to investment in education, jobs and infrastructure, the region is at the bottom of the table. That is not good enough. It is not something that has happened by accident. The region is in decline and that decline is set to worsen. However, there has never been a better opportunity to address it. Co-financing now available from Europe means that the EU will contribute €60 for every €100 we can pump into the west and north-west region. I ask for support from all parties. This is an opportunity for us all to show support for rural towns and villages. The Bill is just one step along the way.