SDLP East Derry MLA John Dallat has expressed disappointment there “has been so much opposition among members in the Assembly to the Department of Agriculture decentralising to the former army barracks at Ballykelly”.
In response to questioning from Mr Dallat in the Assembly, about the DARD relocation, Minister of Agriculture, Michelle O’Neill said: “As I have said to the House before, there are 800 jobs in DARD headquarters, so the intention is to move the whole of the headquarters to one site. You will be aware that I have made announcements in respect of Forest Service relocation, so there will be a number of jobs going into the Fermanagh area. I take on board the Member’s welcome for the Ballykelly site and assure him that it is my intention to move the majority of those 800 jobs into Ballykelly.”
MLA Dallat said the SDLP has “advocated decentralisation of civil service jobs since the Assembly came into being in 1998, but unfortunately their plans were met with almost blanket opposition from other parties,” he said.
“The availability of a site at Ballykelly and the need for the Department to vacate Dundonald House on the Stormont Estate has created an ideal opportunity to address the madness of thousands of civil servants blocking the motorways to Belfast day and daily. It has also offered hope to beleaguered areas such as East Derry that there will be economic recovery in the aftermath of unprecedented job losses over the last decade.
“I welcome the assurance from the Minister that the figure of 800 jobs is serious and time will tell if this promise is delivered by 2015 as promised.
“Certainly the transfer of civil service jobs will help but there is an acceptance that this in itself will not regenerate the economy of East Derry and I await with interest a master plan for the 900 acre site. It is only then that the overall picture will begin to emerge and real wealth can be created locally and grown by local entrepreneurs and others.”