Jobs boost as DARD arrives

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The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is to move its headquarters to Ballykelly, it’s been announced.

Confirmation of the move was announced at yesterday’s meeting of the Executive in Stormont - the first following the summer recess.

The move will bring in 800 staff to the former Shackleton Barracks site. The employees affected are currently based at Dundonald House in east Belfast.

Work will commence on the site as early as possible in 2013/14 and the new HQ is due to be ready for occupation during 2015.

There had been speculation that the headquarters could be moved to Cookstown or to a new centre for rural excellence at the former

Maze Prison site outside Lisburn. Strabane had also been mentioned.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “This is a good news announcement for the rural econo-my, especially the north west.

“It is a unique opportunity to re-locate high quality public sector jobs outside of Belfast, which over the years will bring a range of related economic and social benefits.

“One of the other big advantages of this site is that it’s an executive owned site, so in terms of cost it’ll bring down the whole cost in terms of being able to relocate DARD.

“Also I’ve been up and visited the site and some of the buildings are in first-class shape so I think that will speed up the move.”

The Minister said none of the 800 civil servants would be forced to move to Ballykelly against their will. She said it was usual for officials to move between departments and she was confident she would get enough volunteers to staff the new headquarters.

East Derry Sinn Féin MLA, Cathal Ó hOisín, said the DARD move was great news for the local economy. It would create jobs in the area in the service and supply sectors, and also in retail.