DARD Minister’s Rural Development priorities all wrong

Tuesday, 23 July, 2013

Following the recent announcement that DARD has allocated almost £800,000 of Rural Development funds to Cookstown District Council for an indoor sports facility the Ulster Farmers Union has criticized the DARD Minister for getting her rural development priorities all wrong. 

UFU President Harry Sinclair said; “When the Minister announced that she was setting up a strategic projects programme to prevent EU monies being returned to Brussels, we predicted that funds would be diverted away from the agricultural community and we were right. 

“The sports folks around Cookstown will be pleased that they have managed to get funds for an all singing and dancing sports facility. However, farming families looking to start up diversification projects, which have the potential to provide employment and create much needed economic activity in an area that has been particularly badly hit by the downturn in the construction sector, have been left empty handed and disappointed.“

The South West Action for Rural Development (SWARD), who is responsible for administrating the Rural Development funding in the Cookstown area, were allocated a budget of over £3m for farm diversification projects during the 2007-2013 Rural Development programme period.

Harry Sinclair continued; “Essentially, SWARD has been forced to hand over 20% of the farm diversification budget to this one project. We are aware that there are quite a number of good eligible farm business projects which will not now proceed because of the lack of funding. That just does not ring true with the Minister’s claim that DARD is an economic department.

“To rub salt in the wound, Cookstown District Council is essentially receiving an 80% grant for their sports project, while farmers or their families wanting to set up rural businesses can only avail of up to 50% support. This is patently unfair and actually places private sector businesses at a significant disadvantage against those in the public sector.”

Harry concluded; “If this was such a vital strategic project for the area why did Cookstown District Council not fund it through the rates, or why did the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure or Sport NI not provide the funding? It looks like the sports folks in Cookstown have found a soft touch in the Department of Agriculture and a Minister whose priorities are seriously misplaced.”