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O'Neill looks forward to constructive relationship with Committee

14 June, 2011 - by Michelle O'Neill

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O'Neill today said that she wanted to work with her Departmental Committee to address many key issues that the agriculture sector and rural communities face.

The Minister was speaking as she attended her first Departmental Committee hearing, where she updated members on her priorities as Minister.

She said: "My Department has the potential to be a key economic driver and has a critical role to play in supporting the agri-food sector in building economic recovery. This requires partnership between government and industry and cooperation and collaboration right along the supply chain. It demands increasing development of scientific knowledge and innovative techniques and effective technological transfer to the industry. It must be built on improved knowledge and skills. These issues, and the key economic role that my Department can play, will be a central focus for me over the next few years.”

She said that one factor which will have a major influence on the future success of the agri-food sector would be the outcome of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform negotiations, and added: “I am keen to engage with the Committee to help ensure that we getting the best possible outcome from the discussions about the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. I will be putting the case forward for a strong CAP which is adequately funded. I will also be looking for a CAP that is simpler for farmers and administrators alike to implement.”

She added: “The reformed common fisheries policy is expected to be introduced in 2013. I am determined that the new policy should reduce unnecessary red tape, address the rigidity of current fish quota rules, allow for the diversity of fishing fleets across the EU, reduce fish discards and provide for greater integration of fisheries with other marine policies.”

The Minister explained that she wanted to build on the good work of her predecessor Michelle Gildernew to keep bluetongue out of the local industry and reduce Brucellosis (BR) and TB in our herds. "It is my intention to help ensure that this downward trend continues under my stewardship and that we can achieve a BR free status as soon as possible. I am determined to continue with the Fortress Ireland approach to bio security which will help ensure that a range of measures are in place to protect industry and economy from animal disease.

“I will also implement the recent legislation including the Diseases of Animals Act, the Welfare of Animals Act, Dogs (Amendment) Act and Forestry Act and I am sure the Committee will work with me on these efforts,” she said.

The Minister explained that her Department's Rural Development Programme is having a positive impact in terms of increasing the competitiveness of our local agri-food industry, protecting and enhancing the environment and improving the quality of life in rural areas. She said: "With over £27million committed so far through Letters of Offer issued this shows a significant investment in our rural communities. I am however determined to ensure that any barriers to progress delivery of additional spend in the programme are removed to enable the Programme to be as accessible to as many people as possible.”

The Minister concluded: “I am looking forward to over this Assembly term to a constructive relationship with the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. I am confident that by working together we can take advantage of many opportunities and overcome challenges that the agriculture sector and rural communities face.”

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