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Sinn Féin challenges Six County Agriculture Dept 'spin' on Peace 11 moinitoring

17 September, 2003

Sinn Féin northern Agriculture Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone representative Cllr Gerry McHugh has challenged the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development over manipulation of Peace II monitoring.

Cllr McHugh said:

"It is important that DARD's Permanent Secretary Pat Toal come clean about his department's commitments in relation to spending in the current PEACE II programme. DARD is required under the PEACE II rules to spend by December 2003 £12.755 million. To date DARD has spent £883,284.

"I would like to clarify for him that money committed, which means money issued under a letter of offer DOES NOT qualify for spend under EU rules. I also want to point out to DARD civil servants that DARD are totally responsible for the failure to spend money. They dragged their feet and worked at a snails pace to draw up programmes. They have given the farming community NO help or support in the lengthy and extremely complicated application process.

"Farmers which I have spoken to are very disillusioned with the entire process, and tell me on a weekly basis that they are unable to understand the complexity and the criteria required.

"DARD have now announced a service review of its customers, but I would question if this is just cosmetic exercise, to paper over the structural failure of a top heavy, out of touch, civil service?

"I believe another announcement is expected in the near future of some re-organisation of the Rural Development department. This will be another cosmetic exercise if DARD does not make money available for help with applications for funding.

"The future for Irish agriculture is in developing a partnership between farmers, the agri-processing industry and the responsible government department.

"DARD has failed to develop that partnership with Irish agriculture, they have failed over many years to eradicate both TB and BR, we still have no lifting of the beef export ban, the current fiasco with the OTMS scheme, wet weather aid case in flux, a zero tolerance attitude of the least mistake, a rural development programme that very few can access, farm debt at over £600 million, incomes on farms at £88 per week, a British minister who's boss (Margaret Beckett) couldn't care less about farming, not forgetting that DARD costs over £4000 per farm to run.

"It beggars belief after all of these criticisms that farming here actually sustains over 70,000 jobs, how long can a department try to gloss over the cracks and when will they engage in proper and meaningful debate? If DARD worked to the high standards that it expected its farmers too, wouldn't all farm families be much better off." ENDS

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