Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Committee for
Agriculture and Rural Development

Friday 3 May 2002


Rural Proofing

Members present:

Mr Savage (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Armstrong
Mr Bradley
Mr Dallat
Mr Douglas
Mr Kane
Mr McHugh
Mr Paisley Jnr


Ms B Rodgers )
Mr N Cornick ) Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (Ms Rodgers):

I am glad for the opportunity to talk briefly to the Committee about the steps that the Department is taking to implement its commitment to rural proofing. As I mentioned during Question Time on Monday, the Executive have endorsed the establishment of an interdepartmental steering group, under my chairmanship, to develop further machinery to implement the policy. The group held its first meeting and began its work by considering a formal definition of "rural proofing", the scope of the exercise, and the best means of making progress.

I have already said that progress has not been as fast as I would have liked. In that context, I emphasise that although formal machinery for rural proofing is being established only now, it is not the case that rural issues or the legitimate interests and concerns of rural dwellers have been ignored or overlooked. On the contrary, such views have contributed significantly to policy development because of the willing, constructive and enthusiastic participation of many groups and individuals in the consultation process.

I have only two or three minutes before I must leave, so I will not say anything more except that I will leave the Committee a brief paper as the basis for the consideration of the relevant issues.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

On 22 February, you gave evidence to the Committee indicating that the rural proofing co-ordinator had been appointed in November 2001. You said that that would be effective in ensuring that rural communities are no longer forgotten. We have not made significant headway in this area, and Departments have yet to decide on an accepted definition of "rural proofing". Parliamentary answers have provided at least seven definitions. Progress has not been made on big issues such as the Burns Report, housing developments and other matters that affect all aspects of Government. Although the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development must carry out rural proofing, your Colleagues in and outside the Executive do not seem to have committed themselves to making progress in this area. Can you expedite the process?

Ms Rodgers:

I must leave when I have answered this question, as I am only just on schedule. Mr Paisley has raised an important issue. I do not wish to use the word "confusion", but there is no agreed definition of "rural proofing". At the first interdepartmental meeting, we decided that we must agree a definition. That is an important first step.

I do not accept that rural issues have been ignored. There is now a heightened awareness of the need to have regard for rural interests because rural proofing is part of the Programme for Government.

The Burns Report is out for consultation and the Hayes review should shortly arrive at its draft policy stage. However, rural proofing is not about consultation. It is about proofing draft policies and making recommendations on a cross-departmental basis about the implications for rural communities.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Have you drawn up a target list of things in the Burns Report that are good or bad for the rural community?

Ms Rodgers:

Looking at recommendations that are not going to be accepted would be a waste of time. We must look at the draft proposals from the Department and have them rural proofed.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

When the legislation appears, can we expect to see those issues addressed?

Ms Rodgers:

We will look at any draft proposals to measure their implications for rural communities. There will be other criteria. Rural proofing is not the only issue, but it will have more importance than it did in the past.

I am afraid that I must leave the meeting.

The Deputy Chairperson:

We must include that issue on the agenda for another meeting.

Ms Rodgers:

I will leave the paper with you.

The Deputy Chairperson:

We are concerned about the closure of the fish factory in Kilkeel. Many jobs and livelihoods are at stake along the County Down coast. The Committee would like to throw its weight behind any proposals that can help the situation. Can you comment on that situation?

Ms Rodgers:

That is not a matter for me. Local representatives are in contact with my Colleague Sir Reg Empey, the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, who has responsibility for the matter. It is tragic news. The loss of 150 jobs is a serious blow. There is a commitment from Young's to take the prawns from the catchers. It is a small consolation that it will not affect the catchers. At this stage, however, I do not want to jump to conclusions about the cause of the closure.

A major processor in the South closed recently. That would indicate to me that there is a potential oversupply. I am not aware of the commercial considerations that led to the decision to close, but it is a tragedy for the workers involved.

Mr Bradley:

I have secured a meeting with the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment on Tuesday 7 May. I will be asking the Minister what the company's chief executive, Mr Griffiths, meant when he said that the factory did not lend itself to the high-tech investment that it required. I assume that you will receive information about the overall situation.

Ms Rodgers:

That may happen, but the matter does not fall directly within my responsibilities. I am sure that the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment will do all that he can to deal with the situation.

3 May 2002 (part iv) / Menu / 3 May 2002 (part vi)