Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer has described comments by SDLP MLA Joe Byrne where he outlined his party’s view that the new Rural Development Programme (RDP) should be directed towards the farming community rather than community projects as beyond belief and foolish.
Mr. McAleer said,
“As a member of the DARD committee, I feel it is important to state that DARD has a remit for the entire rural community – farmers and the non farming rural dweller alike.
“That remit is not alone decided by DARD but also by the European Union which includes measures such as the Rural Development Plan in order to address poverty and quality of life issues affecting everyone in rural areas.
“As well as paying £250m per year directly to farmers in the form of Single Farm Payments the CAP also provides funding through Pillar II Rural Development Programme for rural community infrastructure.
“The Rural Development Programme has been used for the wider rural community to provide basic services like broadband, rural transport and childcare in isolated country areas.
“I find it amazing that the SDLP are arguing that rural development should lose these monies and that all monies go directly to farmers, something the farmers would not advocate themselves.
“Are they arguing that rural broadband not be upgraded, rural shops and post offices close or that public transport routes cease, and rural education and health initiatives be abandoned?
“It is obvious this policy is ill considered when on one hand they are lauding the greatness of projects like the Garvaghey GAA centre which was part funded by the Rural Development Programme, whilst at the same time criticising DARD for funding so called ‘social, sporting and cultural’ projects in rural areas.
“DARD has led the way in supporting rural projects and in encouraging other departments to play their part. It is incredibly important that all stakeholders, farmers and non-farmers, work together for the greater good of our rural way of life. An effective and well-tailored CAP reform package can help us to collectively achieve the goal of a vibrant and prosperous rural community.
“Sinn Fein will continue to work towards building vibrant rural communities despite a 22% cut to the rural development budget by the British Tory Government.