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Delivering for Rural Dwellers

5 November, 2007

Sinn Féin Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, Michelle Gildernew MP MLA, has outlined how the Executive's spending plans and the draft Programme for Government will deliver for rural dwellers.

Under the Executive's draft budget proposals, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's (DARD) budget would increase by 2.5 per cent a year. Additionally, under the Investment Strategy, DARD would benefit from gross capital allocations of £99.5million/£41.2milion/£42.1million. The Programme for Government also targets support for rural businesses and infrastructure.

Speaking at Mash Direct, a leading agri-food business, Co Down, the Minister said: "This is very good news for rural communities, which continue to face serious challenges. I made a strong case to the Executive that we needed to make a firm commitment to the future of rural communities and the Executive has delivered.

"These budget increases allow me to address most of my priorities over the next three years. For example, in the rolling-out of the £500million Rural Development Programme and completion of the £140 million Farm Nutrient Management Scheme."

"Equality will be a key policy area for me going forward and I will ensure that this budget spending will be subject to a high level impact assessment and as necessary, rigorous equality impact assessments."

Ms Gildernew continued: "The Programme for Government also commits us to a number of new actions, including: bringing forward proposals for the Rural White Paper by the end of 2008; a new £10 million package to combat rural social exclusion and poverty; and implementation by the Rivers agency for European Directive flood management requirements."

Referring to the agri-food sector, the Minister said: "Mash Direct is a great example of the opportunities for farm diversification. It is an innovative family business which is competing internationally. DARD has provided support to this business and it has proved to be a real success.

"Additional raw materials have been required and 50 jobs have been created. Ongoing innovation and development has led to award-winning products that are available on retailers' shelves throughout Ireland and further afield. I hope that it encourages others in the industry to see what is possible."

Ms Gildernew said that she would be announcing the details of further initiatives over the coming weeks.

In conclusion, the Minister said: "Yes, there are serious challenges for those living and working in rural areas, but there are also opportunities. The budget increases make a real difference in turning my priorities into realities and this is where I believe I can make the most impact to benefit rural dwellers during my tenure as Minister." ENDS

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