Question Time: Agriculture and Rural Development Tuesday 24 February 2015

Agriculture Minister, Michelle O’Neill, outlined her plans to attempt to reduce the incidence of bovine tuberculosis in Northern Ireland’s cattle herd during today’s Question Time. Northern Ireland has a robust EU-approved TB eradication programme in place to test for infection, remove affected animals and reduce the risk of disease spread through movement controls and biosecurity measures.  Each breakout is assessed by a DARD veterinary officer and public and animal health advice is delivered to educate on infection and preventative measures. The Minister added “I have made it repeatedly clear that my objective is to progressively reduce the level of TB here, with the ultimate aim of eradicating it from our cattle herds. That is why I commissioned a TB strategic partnership group to prepare an eradication strategy and implementation action plan.”

Declan McAleer was keen to question the Minister on how the tackling rural poverty and social isolation framework will benefit rural communities. Mrs O’Neill remains “firmly committed to tackling issues of rural poverty and isolation” as evidenced by the extension of the tackling rural poverty and social isolation (TRPSI) programme into the 2015-16 Budget year. Plans have been put in place to assist rural transport, support rural community development, encourage youth employment, tackle fuel poverty and improve broadband services in rural areas. “There is much focus on ensuring that all tackling rural poverty and social isolation funding is targeted at making life better for rural dwellers who are living in isolated and deprived areas and at building on the great achievements in the past number of years.”

Mrs O’Neill also answered questions on price-fixing in the pig processing sector, the rural white paper action plan and the fisheries fund. During the period of time allotted for topical questions Members also enquired about the costs of DARD HQ moving to Ballykelly, single farm payments, exporting Irish beef and animal cruelty legislation.

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