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Gildernew sets of stall at Balmoral

15 May, 2008

Sinn Féin Minister Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA has reviewed progress on key issues and outlined her forward work programme at this year's Balmoral Show.

During her address at the traditional Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) breakfast at the Balmoral Show, the Minister said:

"There is no doubt that farmers and rural communities face huge challenges. The intensive livestock sectors in particular are faced with increasing costs and competition. While there are no quick wins, I believe that during the course of the past year we have built solid foundations on which to build."

Also present was the newly-appointed Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister, Brendan Smith TD. Ms Gildernew said that the close working relationship with southern colleagues had paid dividends in adopting the "Fortress Ireland" approach to keeping the island disease-free and that she looked forward to working closely with Mr Smith.

Referring to disease outbreaks Ms Gildernew said:

"Undoubtedly one of our biggest challenges has been keeping the North disease-free. We will maintain our defences against Bluetongue. But we can't take anything for granted and so I'm planning to have a supply of vaccine available this summer, to be ready for use if needed.

"However, with tighter controls on animal imports to the island as a whole and the vaccination programme in Britain, I am hopeful that this should reduce the risk either from imports or wind-borne infection across the Irish Sea. My advice to farmers is that they count the potential costs and don't take the risk of importing animals from Bluetongue areas."

Ms Gildernew continued:

"Red tape is another key issue which I was keen to progress. In conjunction with DOE, I have established an independent review panel to look at the whole issue. The panel has been working closely with industry and hopes to provide a report in the autumn. The target is to produce a simplification plan to deliver a 25% reduction in bureaucracy over the next five years."

Looking ahead at the next 12 months, the minister said:

"Once we have the better Regulation and Simplification report, we can then set about acting on its recommendations. The Rural Development Programme should be fully operational and starting to translate into action at local level. It should also be contributing to the way forward on the red meat sector within a cohesive strategy.

"Work to complete extra slurry storage under the Farm Nutrient Management Scheme should be in the final stages. But my advice to farmers in this scheme is as before - if you want to be sure of your position, get your work done this year."

Referring to the World Trade Organisation negotiations, Ms Gildernew said:

"I will continue to press for a balanced outcome to the WTO negotiations that does not sacrifice the interests of agriculture for the sake of an early agreement."

The minister also announced that she and Nigel Dodds had agreed on new structures to support the food sector. She said that these would strengthen collaboration between Invest NI and DARD as well as give the sector a clear role in influencing the government's priorities and use of resources. The new arrangements will be put in place, in dialogue with the industry, by the summer.

In conclusion, the minister said:

"When I came into office one year ago, I said that I would seek to build partnerships and make a difference. Those two strands remain central to my approach and I intend to take work forward on that basis as we strive to make things better for those who work and live in rural areas."

Note to Editors

Guests attending the Balmoral Breakfast were given the opportunity to make a voluntary contribution to the NI Children's Hospice.

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