Northern Ireland is facing a “double-edged sword” in rural areas between the current cost of living crisis and “lack of government”, according to founder and chief executive of Rural Action, Teresa Canavan.

Canavan spoke at the recent Irish Rural Link (IRL) conference, which looked at the challenges facing rural communities, in terms of energy, food and transport costs, along with what supports are needed.

“In terms of the cost of living crisis, it’s the same in the north and south, but in Northern Ireland we have no government at the minute, so that’s creating a whole different challenge in terms of accessing grants and supports,” Canavan said.

“There’s nobody there to take some initiative that would support communities right now,” she added.

Hannah Boylan from the Vincentian Minimum Essentials Budget for Ireland (MESL) Research Centre highlighted findings of the centre’s recent study at the conference, which showed a “stark deepening of income inadequacy” for rural Ireland.

The MESL research, which is published annually, breaks down expenditure areas based on a list of what researchers consider “needs”, covering everything from socks to Wi-Fi.

The study showed that food prices increased by 20.8% in the year to March 2023. Boylan stated that staples such as milk, bread and butter in particular showed a “significant increase”.

Canavan said that an “all-island approach” is needed to help Northern Ireland with increased cost of living.

She said she wants to see “better cooperation” between the north and south of Ireland to deal with the “inadequacy” described in the report.

“We can learn from each other, there’s definitely things that we can take away and implement in our own communities,” Canavan said.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but see if the existing wheel can be improved. It could be the first building block for what will become a strong foundation,” Canavan added.

She said that Rural Action is making sure that local communities are heard and that local voices are involved in decision making.