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Salzburg conference will map out future for rural development

31 October, 2003

Sinn Féin's EU candidate and former Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety Bairbre de Brún commenting on the forthcoming European Conference on rural development 'Planting seeds for rural futures' in Salzburg, Austria between 12 - 14 November has voiced concerns that representatives from the LEADER network have been excluded from the conference by DARD's distribution of the available places.

Ms de Brún said:

"This important event will look at how the current rural development programme has both operated and been received, as well as what outcomes have been achieved within the context of the ongoing and speeded up reforms which are about to occur under the CAP reforms.

"I understand that DARD and wider rural interests from the north will be attending, but I am alarmed that one of the key elements of the European funding programme that operates right throughout European will not be attending. The LEADER programme has an excellent track record and has contributed much to the rural community. It is ill conceived that a place at this conference for representatives of the LEADER network have been organised by DARD."

Cllr Gerry McHugh Fermanagh South Tyrone Assembly candidate and party agriculture spokesman also has voiced concerns about the contribution that DARD will be making at this important event.

Cllr McHugh added:

"One of the key elements coming out of the Rural Summit in Enniskillen last week was lack of accountability and serious questions about who DARD. The rural community, farmers and their democratically elected representative must be at the heart of decision-making.

"Salzburg will set the priorities for the delivery of rural development programmes from 2007 onwards. DARD must put forward the policies that the people wish to see implemented. I am calling on DARD to urgently arrange meeting with all the political parties and stakeholders in the next week, to get their position on rural development?

West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty, head of Sinn Féin's national Agriculture and Rural Development department, added:

"During the next five years rural communities will see as much change as they did in the last 25. In effect this conference will decide how farmers modulated money is spent. It will decide on the economic, social and environmental viability of rural areas and how rural areas will interact with the urban fringe.

"Yet the approach of DARD to this key conference begs serious questions - where is the open government that we are supposed to have and why have DARD not consulted in advance of this event, and got a list of agreed priorities?

"Sinn Féin will not allow out of touch civil servants make unaccountable policy decisions which will have such a considerable impact upon the whole community." ENDS

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