13/08/2008

Country Matters Up For Debate

Communities, organisations and individuals with an interest in rural areas are being encouraged to air their views on how issues affecting them could be championed inside and outside government.

Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew (pictured) has launched a public consultation outlining proposals on the rural champion concept and seeking views on how it should be developed and progressed.

The rural champion concept, which has already received the backing of the Northern Ireland Executive, aims to ensure that the needs of, and issues affecting, those living and working in the countryside are considered as all new policies are developed.

Launching the consultation the Minister said: "It is recognised that rural issues impact across all of Government and that many rural concerns are no different from urban worries, for example on health, jobs, housing, education, transport and services.

"I want to see every government department test its policies against rural needs and examine their likely impact on rural people and places.
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"The aim of the rural champion concept supports this and will work to ensure that a mechanism and culture exists which allows for rural communities to highlight issues, to provide evidence to support their views and propose sustainable solutions to the challenges they face.

"Ensuring consideration of the rural dimension as policies are being developed, rather than when they have been developed, will have a real impact on the people who live and work in the countryside."

The Minister continued: “"his is an important step in a process which, alongside the development of a Rural White Paper, will enable rural communities to define their futures. It is also an opportunity for government and rural stakeholders to engage in a meaningful way and to look at how we might all champion rural issues."

The Minister concluded by asking everyone to contribute to the consultation, saying: "I encourage everyone to avail of this opportunity to tell us what they think the rural champion concept should be about and how we can ensure sustainable rural communities."

Key proposals in the document include the re-invigoration of the rural proofing process, the establishment of a new mechanism for engaging with stakeholders, the development of a rural evidence base, and the establishment of a new cross departmental Rural Policy Committee chaired by the Minister.

(BMcC)

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