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DARD 'yet again' fail to properly administer grant assistance

26 October, 2006

Sinn Féin Agriculture and Rural Development Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has said that it is no surprise that DARD have yet again been exposed as having wholly inadequate systems in place for monitoring and administering grant aid after an Audit Report highlighted serious deficiencies in the operation of the decommissioning scheme for fishing boats.

Ms Gildernew said:

"It is unbelievable that the department did not know from the outset of the decommissioning scheme what the fishing industry needed it to achieve. At this stage the department still do not know what the required size of the fishing fleet should be.

"What is more damming is that the department presided over spending money in a way which was unfair and discriminatory. The same department is responsible for tens of millions of pounds in the current rural development programme and are planning for 2007 - 2013 programme.

"Public confidence in DARD can only be undermined when the department, under the decommissioning scheme, gave money to applicants in excess of what they needed, and when some who said they could proceed without grant aid were given money anyway. Poor management and the mishandling of public money by DARD has been repeatedly exposed. In many cases there are common problems, including;

· A lack of proper planning

· A lack of consultation with industry partners

· An arrogance, in that they believe they are always correct, followed by a denial that they got it wrong

· Failure to put in place clear and transparent appeal systems

· Legal actions which find the department at fault, resulting in tens of thousands of pounds being paid in legal fees and damages

· A shifting of staff, but no senior officials taking responsibility

"Unfortunately all of this means that the rural community suffers. All of this also undermines the ability of DARD to best assist an industry, which is facing a number of very serious challenges and requires strong and effective support." ENDS

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