Question Time: Agriculture and Rural Development Monday 02 November 2015

During today’s Question Time, Lord Morrow asked Agriculture Minister, Michelle O’Neill, about the steps she will be taking to address the problem of river pollution. The remit of DARD covers pollution sourced from farms but is working with other Departments to prevent pollution in general and improve water quality. DARD and DOE are working together on the nitrates directive to prevent water pollution from agricultural sources and to ensure that manures and chemical fertilisers are used efficiently. DARD also works with other Departments and stakeholders on the implementation of the water framework directive which aims to deliver long-term sustainability for the water environment and covers all sectors that have an impact on water. The Department has also worked with a number of Departments on a long-term water strategy for Northern Ireland. The strategy is cross-cutting, and is expected to come to the Executive for agreement in the coming months. Mrs O’Neill then addressed concerns around the lengths of sentences handed to people convicted of animal cruelty. Following significant public interest in the enforcement of the Welfare of Animals Act 2011, a private Members’ motion was agreed in March 2014 to review sentencing guidelines and practices – “The purpose of the review is to ensure that animal welfare enforcement is dealt with effectively.” An interim report of the review, published in February 2015, recommended increasing the maximum sentence and fine on conviction for the more serious summary offences and increasing the maximum prison term in the case of indictable offences – “That will mean that the penalties for animal welfare offences here are as tough as or tougher than any that are available in the Twenty-six Counties or in Britain. There was substantial support for the recommendation during the consultation on the interim report. ” However Primary legislation is required to amend the original Act. As there is not enough time to implement this in the current mandate, the Minister has been working with the Justice Minister to include the provisions in the Justice No.2 Bill. The Minister is confident that the House will support these amendments as the Justice Bill progresses through the Assembly. The Minister also answered Members’ questions on the Rural Proofing Bill, the Rural Development Programme, the river Lagan, farming and horse mussel beds in Strangford Lough.