Question Time: Agriculture and Rural Development Tuesday 28 April 2015

During today’s Question Time Michael McGimpsey asked Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, Michelle O’Neill, for her assessment of dog breeding establishments “given the level of greed, exploitation and downright cruelty” exposed in the recent BBC ‘Spotlight’ programme. The Minister is aware of the recent reports and assured that she is “committed to protecting and safeguarding the welfare of all animals, including dogs and pups”. Our dog breeding rules have the strictest controls in the British Isles. However “Legislation alone will not stop illegal puppy farming. That will take a concerted effort by the public, dog buyers, welfare charities and enforcement agencies working together to identify breeders, licensed or unlicensed, who put financial gain before the welfare of their dogs and pups. All evidence of illegal dog breeding should be reported to councils for full investigation. ” The Department is currently reviewing the implementation of the Welfare of Animals Act 2011 and an interim report of the review is out for public consultation. In light of the recent publicity the consultation period has been extended, allowing more stakeholders’ views to be heard.

Mrs O’Neill also provided an update on the roll-out of the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), the successor to the European Fisheries Fund. Officials are currently working with colleagues in the Marine Management Organisation and DEFRA to ensure timely implementation of the scheme to support the fishing and aquaculture industries. The key to implementation is the approval of the operational programme which is being drafted by DEFRA and due to be with the European Commission in the upcoming weeks. The Commission will then work with DEFRA to ensure that the plan is approved by October 2015 at which stage the Department can then open the programme to applications for funding. The Minister is confident that all work will be completed on schedule.

Also addressed during Question Time was environmental engagement, the Rural Micro Capital Grant Programme and the Rural Development Programme. During the topical question period the Minister also answered questions on lamb labelling, the Strabane DARD Direct office, river pollution and the cost of DARD HQ in Ballykelly.

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