Question Time: Agriculture and Rural Development Tuesday 16 June 2015

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, Michelle O’Neill, provided the House with an update on the relocation of departmental headquarters during Question Time. The relocation programme involves four different moves – the fisheries division relocating to south Down; the Forest Service to Fermanagh; Rivers Agency to Cookstown and the rest of the Department to Ballykelly. The fisheries division have already moved to the Downshire Civic Centre in Downpatrick, work is well underway on the Forest Service and Rivers Agency moves and a planning application for the Ballykelly HQ site was submitted at the end of April. The cost of the relocation programme is around £30.8m in capital and £14.3m in resources. The Executive has signed off on the process, many public-service jobs will be de-centralised, motorways should suffer less congestion, rural areas will benefit economically from the increased foot-fall and many construction jobs will be created for the builds.

Mrs O’Neill also addressed concerns around the current problems in relation to lamb labelling. New EU labelling rules and fluctuations in currency exchange have seen the price of an average lamb drop from £105 to £80 in a year. Mrs O’Neill echoed concerns saying “I have been concerned about the impact of the new EU country of origin labelling rules on the trade of sheep reared in the North and slaughtered in the South. I am doing everything in my power to support solutions to the current situation and to head off any potential problems for other products. ” The Minister has been in regular contact with her Southern counterpart, Minister Coveney, and departmental officials have also met with Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine officials, EU Commission officials in Brussels, as well as DEFRA and Food Standards Agency officials here in the North. Mrs O’Neill asserted “I remain fully committed to finding a solution to labelling difficulties that works for everyone, and I will continue to press for flexibility for our local products.”

The Minister also answered questions on abandoned farm animals, funding for local action groups and agrifood research. During topical questions Mrs O’Neill also addressed concerns on red meat exports, rural payments agency, the fishing industry task force and rural crime.

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