T5. Ms Sheerin asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, given the fact that the ‘NDNA’ document repeatedly identifies the transformation of key services as a priority, what steps he will take to remind his and other Departments that the transformation of key services must be done in a way that complies with their rural needs duty and properly considers the needs of rural citizens. (AQT 195/17-22)
That is cross-departmental and affects a wide range of Departments. The Department for Infrastructure has many responsibilities for transportation, ensuring that people who live in areas that are more challenging to reach do not lose the opportunity to go to medical appointments and that their children have reasonable access to school transport and all of those things. We all have a role to play in ensuring that the rural community, which is a vibrant and vital community in Northern Ireland, can go about its business to the best of its ability. Bearing in mind that many in that community are not well off, we need to be able to support and facilitate them, especially for their key needs.
Absolutely. I have been talking to the Minister of Health about rural isolation and mental health issues. Sadly, many incidents happen in rural communities as a consequence of that isolation, when people do not have the opportunity to talk to others when they feel down and depressed. Those are all issues to which we need to find solutions. That is a collective task for all in the Assembly. We need to work together and in the best interests of all of our people, but, in this instance, for the rural community in particular.