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T2. Mr McElduff asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs whether she and her departmental officials will work closely with Minister Michelle O’Neill and her departmental officials to discuss the implications of the Bengoa report, essentially for rural communities, not least isolated rural communities. (AQT 397/16-21)
I thank the Member for his question. It was a fundamental piece of work that was announced today, and I will, of course, work alongside all my Executive colleagues on its implementation.
Will the Minister keep at the forefront of her mind the weighting that needs to be given to rural needs and rural proofing in decision-making? Will she remind her Executive colleagues, when appropriate and necessary, that the definition of social deprivation includes the distance from essential health services?
I thank the Member for his question. As he will be aware, I have responsibility for the implementation of the Rural Needs Act, and it falls to me to be the voice of rural needs around the Executive table. I will be a constant reminder to my colleagues, although I would like to think that they will be cognisant of rural needs and that that will come naturally to them as time goes on. Most of us in the Chamber represent rural constituencies, so it is incumbent on us all to be cognisant of that. I am very much aware of social isolation, particularly in relation to access to the health service. In my previous role, I was very supportive of community transport providers and the work that they do, and particularly the volunteers who help people in isolated situations to access hospital appointments and doctors' appointments. I will be very much involved with that.