Ulster Unionist Agriculture spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson has said that the Assembly’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee must now get on with its important work of supporting the farming community.
The Upper Bann MLA was speaking after the Reservoirs Bill eventually passed its Committee and major legislative stage, almost four years after it was first appeared.
Jo-Anne Dobson MLA said: “The Reservoirs Bill mainly sets out to introduce minimum standards to ensure that breaches are avoided.
“Whilst that is important, it is frankly ridiculous that it took the Bill almost four years to get to its current stage. It just shows how incompetent the first draft of it actually was.
“The Agriculture Committee at Stormont has a key role as acting as a check on the DARD Minister and her Department.
“Unfortunately the Committee has also had to deal with the distraction of this Bill in recent years; something which I suspect the Minister was only too pleased with as she went on ahead bungling her responsibilities.
“At last the Bill is now gone, something I had been urging to happen for a very long time. Yet the Committee has been left with a burgeoning in-tray of issues which all need urgent attention.
“Not least this should include what we as a committee can do to alleviate some of the instability in the local dairy, beef and lamb markets.
“In addition there is the case of the overall DARD budget which has been reduced like many of the other Executive Departments, yet the Minister is still pushing ahead against all advice to spend over £40m on a brand new headquarters and anywhere between £54 and £78m on a new IT system to replace APHIS.
“Such reckless decisions are inevitably going to have a detrimental impact on farmers as other DARD services are cut to pay for them.
“Another area the Committee now must pay close attention to is the prospect of a major mid-term review of CAP in only two years’ time.
“We must ensure Northern Ireland’s farmers don’t lose out in the UK’s overall allocation of funding for instance.
“The Committee must now get back fully on track doing what it is best at – making sure the Minister and her officials are actually doing what farmers and rural communities on the ground expect them to do.