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Sinn Féin accuse DARD of misusing Rural Development Programme funds

10 January, 2005

Sinn Féin Rural Regeneration spokesperson, Newry Armagh MLA Pat O'Rawe, has criticised the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development over the excessive use of Rural Development Programme money on consultants and branded it a misuse of funds.

In a recent letter received by Cllr O'Rawe, the Department has admitted that the estimated amount of money spent in relation to the current Rural Development Programme (RDP) will by March 2005, have reached in excess of £2 million.

Attacking the spend, Cllr. O‚Rawe said:

"It is a disgrace that DARD has been allowed to get away with frittering away money that is not its own, on consultants fees for a programme that has been practically inaccessible to farmers. It is also clear that regardless of the consultants‚ work, the programme has remained difficult to access and is still poorly designed. I seriously question the value of such fees form consultants who fail to offer significant improvements to the programme.

"Consultants have been employed to bring projects forward due to farmers being totally unable to apply to the programme themselves. Consultants are reaping the rewards for a poorly designed programme.

"This spend has highlighted how DARD has failed to be held to account for its actions. The failure to get a restoration of the political institutions means that no scrutiny or local accountability is in place. This is another example of how the farming and agricultural community as a whole is regarded by DARD. The very fact that DARD would rather spend RDP money on highly paid consultants smacks of contempt for the community that this money was put in place to help." ENDS

Note to Editors

Pat O' Rawe's information was received in a letter dated Dec 21 2004 from Ian Pearson at DARD. In this letter relating to the amount of money spent and committed to consultants under the RDP, he stated that:

"from April 2001 to March 2004 the actual amount paid to consultants, including expenses, was £1,260,587.91. Total expenditure under the RDP (including the latter figure on consultancy costs) over this same period amounted to £14.10m. The anticipated figure for the Department‚s level of commitments to consultants for this financial year from April 2004 UP TO march 2005, including expenses, is £819,547.

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