Sinn Féin MLA Cathal Ó hOisín has welcomed the number of civil servants who have shown an interest to transfer to the new DARD headquarters in Ballykelly.
Mr O’hOisin was speaking after the agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill reiterated her commitment to the DARD move.
“I remain committed to taking all reasonable steps to ensure the transition of the Belfast-based headquarters to Ballykelly,” the minister told the Assembly on Monday. “It is about a fair distribution of public-sector jobs and fairness across the public sector. We will continue to drive that forward. I have set out my commitment to the capital allocations in the draft budget position.
With regards to the Ballykelly move, the minister added: “Whilst there were concerns at the start that a number of people in
DARD headquarters did not want to move, the further work has generated an overwhelming response, with over 4,000 staff registering an interest in one of the posts. That is many more applicants than posts. It shows very clearly that there is a need for a change in the public sector. Individuals want to find a better life/work balance and a job closer to home. Over 1,500 wanted to apply for Ballykelly alone.”
Mr Ó hOisín said: “Everyday hundreds of civil servants travel from Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh to Belfast adding around another four hours to their working day yet could do a similar job in their own area.
“The decentralisation of the DARD department to Ballykelly will present the opportunity for many civil servants to transfer to a post closer to home. While I understand that not every request will be met due to the retention of people with specialisms many civil servants will be able to be facilitated allowing for them to get a better work life balance. I look forward not only to the opening of the Ballykelly site but also the further decentralisation of departments to areas right across the North.”
Also in the Assembly on Monday, SDLP West Tyrone MLA Joe Byrne raised concerns about the DARD relocation to Ballykelly.
“I welcome the proposal to move DARD headquarters out of Belfast but recognise that a cost analysis is crucial. That is still lacking. As it stands, there are only approximate costs for the proposal,” said Mr Byrne. “The proposal also lacks proper financial and human resource analysis; that is its biggest shortcoming. The SDLP and I require a more detailed costing and business case before any move is finalised and implemented.”