Minister outlines rationale for Forkhill
Sinn Féin Rural Development Minister Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA has outlined the rationale for the re-development of the Forkhill former army base.
The Minister spoke following a No Named Motion in the Assembly which argued that DSD should have responsibility for the development of the site.
The Minister said:
"I am very concerned at the arguments being presented to prevent DARD working towards the creation of sustainable rural communities, through a programme of innovative job creation, business opportunities and social enhancement projects. To that end, Forkhill fits squarely within DARD's remit, however all Government Departments must work together if projects such as Forkhill are to be delivered.
"My Department's involvement in the lead role for this project also sits well within the overall theme of its Rural Strategy 2007 - 2013, which is 'Diversifying the rural economy, protecting the rural environment, and sustaining rural communities.' Forkhill is clearly rural with a population of just under 3,000 people. DARD's involvement, in my view fits well with the Programme for Government agreed by the Executive in January, in which DARD is charged with helping rural communities.
"I utterly reject comments made during the debate that the pursuit of rural development comes before farming or fishing interests. The facts speak for themselves, £420million of the £530million Rural Development Programme funding can be accessed by farmers. This is the overwhelming majority of the funds. As regards the fishing industry, next month I will be launching an investment plan for the European Fisheries Fund, the EFF is worth €36million, half of which is provided by the Department with match funding from the EU. My support for the Forkhill project in no way takes away from the other parts of my portfolio."
The Minister argued that Forkhill is a particularly suitable site to take forward as a pilot project because of its location, condition and the work already undertaken by the local Community Group and the Forkhill and District Development Association, which had produced, through community consultation, a blueprint of suitable actions for the site, both social and economic.
In conclusion, the Minister outlined her disappointment that the Business Case to fund this proposal had been rejected by the Department of Finance and Personnel, but reiterated her commitment to finding a way to ensure this development succeeds. She highlighted the potential of the Project to change the lives of people in the area.
The Minister said:
"Forkhill has suffered because of the major military base strategically placed in the centre of the village which has impacted greatly on every aspect of local life during the last number of years.
"The proposal that my Department wants to take forward would send out a strong signal, not only to the local community, but to everyone including the private sector, that this Administration is prepared to commit itself financially to a unique rural development opportunity which will bring significant benefits to the local people and hopefully attract some private sector investment.
"If allowed to proceed, it will increase pride in that area, create business opportunities and jobs, provide leisure facilities to young people, help create opportunities for young mothers and fathers, reduce anti-social behaviour, encourage children into healthy outdoor pursuits and sports and provide access to jobs. The Forkhill project will help create a new revitalised village centre for the people of Forkhill and surrounding area."
Notes to editors
DARD became involved in Forkhill following an approach to David Hanson the then Minister for Social Development, by the local MP, MLAs and Councillors for the Forkhill area.
DARD itself does not have the necessary legal powers to purchase the site, but DSD under the Social Needs Order 1988 does have the power and has agreed to purchase the site on DARD's behalf. It is intended that the two acres set aside for housing will be acquired and developed by a Housing Association with the approval and support of DSD. The remaining six acres will be acquired and developed by the Forkhill and District Development Association.