Question Time: Agriculture and Rural Development Monday 14 September 2015

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle O’Neill, discussed farm price difficulties and the crisis in the farming sector during today’s Question Time. The Minister is “very concerned about the impact on individual farmers, their families and, indeed, the wider industry” citing global factors outside our control such as the Russian ban on food imports, reduced demand from key markets (including China) and a weak euro for the current situation. The Minister has met with the DEFRA Secretary of State to emphasise the circumstances in the north and push for urgent EU action saying “In particular, I have been pushing for a review of intervention threshold rates and immediate help for the dairy sector, but I have also highlighted the plight of other sectors.” Mrs O’Neill has also met with MEPs and counterparts from Wales, Scotland and Ireland in a bid to find a resolution to the difficulties.

During topical questions Colum Eastwood asked the Minister if she is still confident of the successful decentralisation of DARD HQ to Ballykelly despite the current political circumstances.The Minister remains fully committed to the project, much of the groundwork has been done and staff are keen on the move. The project will be a tremendous benefit to the North West and result in a fairer distribution of jobs in the country. The Minister would support moves to decentralise other departments saying “It is only right and proper that there is a fairer distribution of public-sector jobs and that rural communities get to avail themselves of the benefits of the increased footfall of people in their area, the potential construction jobs and the ongoing servicing of buildings.”

During regular Question Time Mrs O’Neill also answered questions on young farmer payments, rural crime, the Rural Proofing Bill, Ash Dieback disease and the Farm Business Improvement Scheme. During topical questions the Minister continued answering Members’ questions on the Forestry Service, banning hunting with dogs and the Navy incident in Ardglass.