The issue of rural proofing has once again raised its head at the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee at Stormont.
SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone made his fellow committee members aware of an Assembly Question he had asked of Communities Minister Paul Given surrounding the removal of social security services in Cookstown, which is part his Mid-Ulster constituency.
Mr McGlone asked the minister for details of how many meetings have taken place with Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs officials on this matter and, furthermore, what documents are available to provide detail of an initial rural proofing exercise.
The response to the question revealed that Department for Communities officials had five telephone conversations with their Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs counterparts for advice on the rural proofing of the proposals. The outcome of these discussions has informed the development of a draft Rural Impact Assessment Screening document.
Commenting on the response, Mr McGlone said: “If that is the scale and total sum amount of rural proofing amounts to from across our departments, no matter what department, then that is bad.”
Mr McGlone’s concerns were shared by committee chairperson Linda Dillon, who has also raised an assembly question on the matter.
She pointed to the fact that outside agencies were being asked to carry out rural proofing.
“Other agencies outside of the Assembly are doing more detailed rural proofing because they feel its a responsibility and it is the right thing to do.
“We are expecting other agencies to do proper rural proof and our own ministers are not doing it - that is real a concern.”
UUP MLA Robin Swann said it was not possible to scrutinise the Department for Communities but suggested formally raising it with the Committee for Communities.
Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan reminded members that all departments had signed up to the Rural White Paper and they would have to tell the Assembly how they were rural proofing.