Rural communities are experiencing a ‘perfect storm’

Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer has said that Brexit, the failure to replace lost EU funding, the spiralling cost of living and no Executive have converged to create a “perfect storm” for rural communities in Northern Ireland.

McAleer was speaking after series of engagements with representatives of the rural community sector.

He said: “Just as people have started to emerge from the COVID pandemic, they have been hit with the spiraling costs of living triggered by the fallout of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and compounded by the DUP refusal to form an Executive which could help us mitigate the crisis locally.

“The failure to form an Executive and agree a budget also makes it impossible for rural groups to plan ahead as they are unsure if funding will be available to continue delivering their services to some of the most deprived and isolated people.”

Declan meeting Aidan Campbell of Rural Community Network

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McAleer added: “All of this is happening in the shadow of Brexit which has deprived the north of millions of pounds of EU funding, despite the British government’s pledge that they would match the lost EU funds.

“To add insult to injury, the British government are administering the UK Community Renewal Fund over the heads of local Councils, LEADER groups and government departments, courtesy of the UK Internal Markets Act (2020) which gives them the power to do so.

“This is not the situation in Wales or Scotland where local authorities take the lead on the Community Renewal Fund but here in the north, Westminster manages the fund centrally with no involvement of local representatives or communities.

“This is unfair, undemocratic and runs completely against the principle of community-led local development which has been a hallmark of the Rural Development Programme across the EU for decades.”

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Declan meeting Teresa Canavan of Rural Action

He concluded: “Rural communities here are experiencing a perfect storm generated by global issues and Brexit with the failure to form an Executive making the situation even worse.

“The DUP need to get around the table with the rest of the parties to provide much needed support to beleaguered communities.”

Declan meeting Paula McAliskey and Louise Coyle of NI Rural Womens Network