Concern voiced over rural funding

Mid Ulster District Council is to seek a meeting with the Agriculture Minister to discuss its concerns around future funding for rural development initiatives.

Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 3:45 pm
Cllr Sean Clarke

A proposal to request an urgent meeting with Edwin Poots MLA to discuss the matter was brought forward by Councillor Sean Clarke during a meeting of Council’s development committee on Thursday, May 13.

During a discussion on the future of the Mid Ulster Rural Development Partnership, Cllr Clarke told of his concern that the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) may seek to take the programme in-house and urged Council to seek clarity about the scheme’s future.

“With the current programme coming to a close in March 2022, I have serious concerns about what the subsequent rural development programme will be like,” said Cllr Clarke.

“I’m not sure anyone has an idea what it will look like. Prior to this there would have been a lot of consultation and a lot of publicity and it would have been well known how it was going to be run and delivered.

“Indications are that DAERA may look to take it in house rather than use the successful local partnership approach which has been tried and tested.

“I would be very afraid of the ability of DAERA to deliver an in-house programme. First of all the number of people employed by the department is way below what it would need to be and if it moves to DAERA you are not going to have the experience and the practice of delivering the programme that we have.

“Given those concerns I would propose we request an urgent meeting at a high level with our Chief Executive and the department’s permanent secretary. We need to know where we are going.”

Council’s Chief Executive, Adrian McCreesh noted the loss of this programme would have a greater impact on Mid Ulster than other Council areas.

He also noted councillors Martin Kearney and Francis Burton had, through their roles in the Northern Ireland Local Government Association, raised these concerns in front of Stormont committees.

“We’ve made very clear, the loss of these funds would be a big blow – over the last four and a half years it has allowed for some £28million to invest in our businesses and rural communities,” said Mr McCreesh.

“If that goes, it is a huge gap that has to be plugged and our concern is that it won’t be plugged pound for pound.

“I would have the same concerns about the new format of this programme being moved away from the local action group structure.

“This structure  is designed specifically to ensure it is a bottom up approach and we have embraced and applied it and the evidence speaks for itself. If the will of members is to seek a meeting with the Minister I think it is a very worthy request as it is so hugely significant for Mid Ulster, vastly more than any other Council.”

Cllr Martin Kearney said he was in full agreement with the sentiment expressed and warned there are “red lights flashing” in relation to the future of this scheme.

Cllr Francis Burton said it was vital Council made its position and concerns very clear.

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