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Huge concern over future of Rural Development Council

20 March, 2006

Sinn Féin Agriculture Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has voiced concern over speculation that an announcement on the future of quangos and the Review of Public Administration tomorrow from Peter Hain will spell the end of the Rural Development Council (RDC).

Ms Gildernew said:

"Sinn Féin have been at the forefront in demanding an end to quangoism and the lack of democratic accountability that comes with them and in voicing concern at the approach being taken to reduce the number of quangos. The bottom line is that we need to remove bodies that are not needed and to rebuild democratic accountability.

"We are looking at all the bodies on a case-by-case basis. However, I find it difficult to understand the logic behind the abolition of the RDC. This organisation has delivered for rural communities.

"This announcement is being made during the Rural Life Week initiative and shows a lack of understanding of rural issues by Direct Rule Ministers. The RDC has been an important and influential advocate for rural regeneration and crucially have supported all their initiatives with hard research and data.

"The Council also has a board of 15 representing the wide rural sector, including local elected representatives.

"Many community groups throughout the North have benefited from the help and assistance that the Rural Development Council has provided. On behalf of rural communities the Council has acted as a funding body in providing small grants for a wide variety of community led initiatives.

"Not only has the Council delivered money to rural communities, they have spent all of the funds provided to them. The same could not be said of their sponsoring department, DARD, who have a miserable track record in delivering structural funds both in terms of putting red tape in the way of applicants and job creation. DARD's record in delivering Objective 1 money under Building Sustainable Prosperity has been particularly poor.

"Last year in response to a rural policy consultation the majority of the 43 responses highlighted the need for a body outside of government to deliver assistance to rural communities and to independently rural proof government department policies.

"Given scores of Public Bodies with no accountability whatsoever, it is difficult to understand the logic in scraping an organisation that has accountability and a proven track record of working for and delivering on behalf of the rural community.

"This decision raises serious concerns about the ongoing trend where DARD is attempting to draw more power into the centre. The comparison between the failures of DARD and successes of the RDC are stark. The success of the RDC has been their downfall." ENDS

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