Committee challenges Minister over sale of "Family Silver"

Session: 2006/2007

Date: 13 June 2007

Reference: AGR 06/07

The Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development. Michelle Gildernew MP, and senior Department officials attended this week’s Committee meeting to announce the sale of land at Crossnacreevy in order to meet the Department’s £89 million liabilities under the Farm Nutrient Management Scheme (FNMS).

Although welcoming the additional funding for FNMS, the Committee expressed alarm at the sale of what is widely recognised as a world centre of excellence for agricultural research and at the Department’s inability to provide specific reassurances on the relocation of both staff and research. Despite being pressed by the Committee, no figures were produced regarding the value of the site nor was the timetable for the sale available. The Committee was dismayed that the Department was unable to clarify what will happen to any excess monies raised through the sale.

Dr William McCrea MP, Committee Chairperson said:

“The FNMS is a crisis created by the Department’s incompetence, not by the farmers. The Department got its figures wrong at the outset and still cannot provide a definitive figure for the final costs. The sale of Crossnacreevy is no more than a sale of the ‘family silver’, stripping assets that belong to the taxpayer, in an attempt to put out good news in the same week that the Minister announced a doubling of the money to be taken from farmers’ European payments. The Committee will not be bought with stop-gap measures and there are still some serious questions for the Minister to answer about this whole affair.”

The Committee will next meet on Tuesday 19 June 2007 at 2.00pm in Room 144, Parliament Buildings.

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