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Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development
END OF SESSION REPORT 2009-2010
Remit and Powers
The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development is a Statutory Departmental Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement, under Strand 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Assembly Standing Order 46. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role in respect of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and has a role in the initiation of legislation.
The Committee has power:
The Committee has 11 members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, and a quorum of five members. The membership of the Committee is as follows:
Mr. Stephen Moutray (Chairperson) 4,9
Mr. PJ Bradley 3,7
1 Mr. Pat Doherty replaced Mr. Gerry McHugh with effect from 21st of January 2008.
2 Mr. Edwin Poots replaced Mr. Allan Bresland with effect from 15 September 2008.
3 Mr. Patsy McGlone replaced Mr. PJ Bradley with effect from 29 June 2009.
4 Mr. Ian Paisley Jnr replaced Dr William McCrea with effect from 4 July 2009
5 Dr William McCrea replaced Mr. Trevor Clarke with effect from 14 September 2009
6 Mr. Jim Shannon replaced Mr. Edwin Poots with effect from 14 September 2009
7 Mr. PJ Bradley replaced Mr. Patsy McGlone with effect from 8 March 2010
8 On 13th April 2010 Mr. Kieran McCarthy was appointed as a Member of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development. On 13th April 2010 Mr. Thomas Burns ceased to be a Member of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development.
9 Mr. Stephen Moutray replaced Mr. Ian Paisley Jr as Chair of the Committee on the 23rd of June 2010, after Mr. Paisley resigned from the Assembly on the 21st June 2010 .
10 Dr William McCrea resigned as a member with effect from 1st July 2010
Key Activities, Outputs and Achievements
This report covers the work of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development during the 2009-10 parliamentary session from 1 September 2009 to 31 August 2010.
Diseases of Animals Bill
The Diseases of Animals Bill received royal assent in January 2010. The Committee succeeded in securing the agreement of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to develop a Code of Practice for Searches of Premises under Warrant and in amending Clause 8 of the Bill (which links compliance with bio-security guidance and payment of compensation) to ensure that withholding of compensation would be limited to cases of outbreaks of brucellosis only.
The Forestry Bill received royal assent in June 2010. The Committee took evidence from a wide range of stakeholders including environmental organisations , timber processors, sporting organisations and farming representatives. The Committee suggested and achieved a substantial number of amendments to the Bill in order to fully the opportunities for a strategic and enhanced use of the forest estate in Northern Ireland in terms of recreational, social, economic and environmental benefits. The Committee also succeeded in securing the creation and maintenance of a woodland inventory, in underlining the use of compulsory acquisition of land as a means of last resort and in preventing the introduction of fees for felling licences.
The Committee considers a large amount of subordinate legislation at an early stage and this forms a substantial part of the Committee workload. The Committee has approved 43 pieces of secondary legislation including legislation on animal and plant health, organic farming and fishing.
Dioxin Contamination Incident, December 2008
During this session the Committee published its report into the Dioxin Contamination Incident of December 2008. The report was drafted after 3 evidence sessions, which established the sequence of events and actions of all relevant parties in relation to the incident. The report was produced with recommendations in order that the likelihood of a recurrence of such an incident and resultant effects on the Northern Ireland agriculture and food processing industries can be minimised . The report was debated and approved by the Assembly on 15 March 2010.
One-off Evidence Sessions
During the year, the committee held a number of one-off evidence sessions. These included sessions with representatives from the Ulster Farmers’ Union, Northern Irish Agricultural Producers’ Association, independent farmers and representatives from local action groups. The Committee also held sessions with An Creagan, on wind turbines; A5, A6 and A8 roads dualling groups in respect to roads issues within the farming communities; Bank authorities on banking issues within the Agriculture industry; with Rose Energy and AFBI on the proposals and studies into alternative uses for poultry litter; with the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers’ Association on the Common Fishery Policy proposals on quotas; with NIMEA on the pros and cons of VIA of meat carcasses; with Dairy UK on the key issues facing the dairy industry and the WWF on the NI Floods Directive.
The Committee examined departmental budgets on 7 occasions during the parliamentary session. Sessions were held to consider departmental returns for quarterly monitoring rounds, revised expenditure plans and efficiency delivery plans in areas such as hardship payments and Single Farm Payment Disallowances. This detailed examination of budgets has contributed to ensuring that departmental financial targets have been met.
The Committee held 18 meetings in order to examine the policy relating to the Forestry Bill, Dogs (Amendment) Bill and Welfare of Animals Bill. In addition, the Committee scrutinized policy in respect of 43 pieces of secondary legislation.
The Committee also received 66 presentations on policy issues from DARD and other industry stakeholders during the parliamentary session, ensuring that the needs of the agricultural industry and rural communities are given priority in the development and implementation of policies.
The Committee held 46 meetings throughout 2009-10 and received evidence from 409 witnesses. The Committee held three meetings outside Parliament Buildings – one in Dublin, one in Castlewellan Forest Park, and another at the Balmoral Show. The vast majority of these (82.5%) remained in open session for the entirety of the meeting.
The Committee carried out 9 visits throughout the year, 6 of which were in Northern Ireland, one in the Republic of Ireland and two visits to Europe.
September 2009: Agri Food and Biosciences Institute, Hillsborough
The Committee Chairperson visited AFBI in Hillsborough to find out more about agricultural research processes including anaerobic digestion.
September 2009: Mash Direct, Comber
The Chairperson visited Mash Direct, an award winning local company demonstrating successful farm diversification.
September 2009: European Parliament, Brussels
The Committee travelled to Brussels for a three day visit where Members met with the Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, Joe Borg, and with representatives from the Cabinet of the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. The Committee also met with representatives of the UK Permanent Representation to the EU, with the three Northern Ireland MEPs and with the Irish Permanent Representation to the EU.
Committee Members at the European Commission, Brussels, September 2009
October 2009: Buswells Hotel, Dublin
The Committee held an evidence session in Dublin as part of the Committee Inquiry into the Dioxin Contamination Incident of December 2008. The Committee took evidence from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
December 2009: Ballinderry River Project, Rural Development Council and Rural Community Network, Cookstown
Committee Members visited the Ballinderry River Project outside Cookstown to see the work done by the local community in developing the recreational and environmental benefits of a local resource. Members also met with representatives of the Rural Development Council and Rural Community Network to discuss issues regarding rural development policy.
Committee Members with members of Rural Community Network at a local river project, December 2009
January 2010: Castlewellan Forest Park
The Committee held an evidence session on the Forestry Bill in The Grange offices at Castlewellan Forest Park. This public meeting saw the Committee take evidence from witnesses from a variety of stakeholder organisations such as Confederation of Forest Industries, Countryside Activities and Access Network, Northern Ireland Environment Link and Ulster Farmers’ Union.
February 2010: Veterinary Services Central Enforcement Team, Loughry and An Creagán Visitor Centre, Creggan.
The Committee visited Vet Service Enforcement Team headquarters in Loughry to see at first hand the work done to combat fraudulent activity and to hear of current and previous cases handled by the officers. Members also visited An Creagán Visitor Centre to view the wind turbine installed by this local community organisation and to discuss issues around funding for the turbine.
May 2010: Balmoral Show, Belfast
The Committee held a meeting in the Northern Ireland Assembly marquee at the Balmoral Show where it took evidence from representatives from Ulster Farmers’ Union, Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers’ Association, residents affected by A6 & A8 road dualling plans and from officials from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. In the afternoon, Committee Members held a question and answer session where members of the public had the opportunity to pose questions on agriculture and rural issues. The event, facilitated by Eamonn Mallie, attracted over 900 people over a 2 hour period.
The Committee meeting at the Balmoral Show, May 2010
The Committee take questions from the public at the Balmoral Show, May 2010
June 2010: European Parliament, Brussels
The Committee visited Brussels for meetings with Mr. Ernesto Penas Lado, Director for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries to discuss the position of local stocks, particularly prawns in the Irish Sea and to underline the Committee’s opposition to any further cuts in the December Fisheries Council meeting on quotas. Members also met with Georg Häusler, Head of Cabinet in the Commission for Agriculture and Rural Development to discuss the €60 million penalty faced by Northern Ireland in relation to Single Farm Payment errors and also to discuss reform of the Common Agricultural Policy post 2013. Members were accompanied on the trip by John Thompson, President of the Ulster Farmers’ Union.
The Committee put forward motions during this session of the Assembly. The first motion was put forward on the 5 October 2009 to extend the Committee stage of the Forestry Bill, the next was for the approval of the Dioxins Inquiry report on the 15 March 2010. The third motion was for a Prayer of Annulment for S.R. 2010/125, the Eggs and Chicks Regulations (NI) 2010, although this was withdrawn when the Department agreed to Committee changes. The last motion came on 14 June 2010 for an extension of the Committee stage of the Dogs (Amendment) Bill.
Priorities for the Next Session
The Committee has a substantial work programme planned for the next session. Public consultation on the Dogs (Amendment) Bill and on the Welfare of Animals Bill is ongoing throughout the summer period of 2010 and the Committee will take evidence from a wide range of stakeholders on both of these Bills in the autumn. The Committee will publish its reports on both of these Bills by December 2010.
Scrutiny of the DARD budget will be ongoing and the Committee will hear from the Department in relation to the planned savings and cuts of the overall budget over the next four years.
The Committee will be scrutinising DARD policy in relation to rural development, specifically the Rural White Paper and the concept of Rural Champion in order to ensure that the distinct needs of rural communities are met and anticipated on all future departmental and Executive policy.
The Committee will also continue to build on its dynamic and responsive strategy in engaging with the agriculture industry and rural communities across Northern Ireland. The Committee will be active in attending events and visits to local producers.
Details of Committee expenditure for the session are contained at Appendix A.
Anyone wishing to contact the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development should do so at the following addresses:
The Clerk to the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development
COMMITTEE FOR AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT
Committee Expenditure for Parliamentary Session 2009 – 2010