Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has described the decision to move NI’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) to Ballykelly in Co. Derry as “a great win for the North West”.
The Minister made the comments during a visit to the new ‘Derry Journal’ office on Duncreggan Road last week.
Delighted to talk about the massive jobs boost expected for Ballykelly when DARD relocate there to the site of the former Shackleton Army barracks, Miss O’Neill said: “There are 800 civil service jobs, which creates a great opportunity for anybody who works currently in the civil service to be able to move closer to home.”
Relocating an entire department was not a decision taken lightly, Miss O’Neill revealed.
“This move that I have taken is the first time that any government department has moved out of the greater Belfast area,” she said. “We were clear that we were coming to the North West, and when we examined the Ballykelly site the fact that it’s an executive owned site and considering the economic climate, it was widely agreed to be the best move.
“This proposed move has been underway a long time, perhaps five or six years, but it’s a great opportunity as the first department to relocate to a rural area. I hope other departments follow suit now that the ball’s started rolling.”
The Minister went on: “It’s about spreading these jobs out and having equality across the region in terms of access to public sector jobs. For too long these jobs have been centralised in Belfast, and the rural areas have been disadvantaged so this relocation clearly leads the way and offers a better dispersal of public sector jobs right across the North.”
The Minister hopes that opening up more employment opportunities in the civil service could improve the working lives of many.
“This could give people a better opportunity for a work/life balance if they’re not travelling to the greater Belfast area every day for work.
“For too long, people have had to travel to Belfast for work or promotions, but this will allow people to work closer to home,” she said. “That’s why this is such a fantastic opportunity, it’s a great win for the North West and will create jobs for people who live locally.”
It is thought the new HQ will be fully operational by 2015, and many have voiced support for a new railway line in Ballykelly to accommodate the influx of civil service personnel. The Agriculture Minister sees potential in this idea.
“It’s not something we’ve factored into our original proposals, but there is a logic to it,” she said. “We’ve been lobbied on it and we’ve actually written to Danny Kennedy to discuss it further, but I do think it is a good idea, it makes sense and there is a great opportunity for a rail-line in Ballykelly.”