Sinn Féin MLA for West Tyrone, Declan McAleer, has welcomed the progression of the Rural Needs Bill to the next stage.
Speaking from Stormont, Mr McAleer said: “Six hundred and seventy thousand people live in rural areas in the north of Ireland.
“Myself and my colleagues in Sinn Féin feel very strongly that the Rural Needs Bill will go a long way to address the issues and challenges faced by rural dwellers.
“With this Bill, Ireland will be the first country in Europe to enshrine rural proofing in legislation.
“Indeed, our counterpart in Leinster House, Martin Ferris TD, is simultaneously introducing a Rural Needs Bill.”
Mr McAleer thanked officials at the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development and, in particular, the numerous grassroots stakeholder organisations, which represented all sections of rural communities.
He said: “The organisations that came before us to make presentations represent thousands of people who live in rural areas, such as farmers, rural dwellers and non-farmers,”
“All of the amendments, tabled by the DARD Committee, to this bill came from those grassroots, rural stakeholder groups.
“They did not come from political parties, individual MLAs or any section of the community; they came from the grass roots and from people who are on the ground working every single day for the betterment of rural areas.
“I, and my colleagues on the committee, feel that the Bill is good news for rural communities. It is very much informed and driven by the grass roots. It is good news for the 37% of the people of the North of Ireland who live in rural areas.
“This Bill is seen as a huge step towards achieving a fair and equable rural society. It is incumbent upon us as legislators to make and shape the Bill to make it as effective as we can for the people whom we represent.”