SOUTH Down MP Margaret Ritchie is calling for the DARD Fisheries Division to be relocated to her constituency.
South Down is home to two of the three main fishing ports in Northern Ireland, Kilkeel and Ardglass, with the other port Portavogie in the Strangford constituency in close proximity.
Ms Ritchie said that confirmation that the Minister for Agriculture plans to relocate the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which includes the Fisheries Division, to Ballykelly in the North West, 100 miles from Kilkeel, is a matter of concern.
“This will mean a 200 mile round trip for officials who regularly need to see firsthand any issues or difficulties faced in the local ports. For those within the industry and representing the interests of the industry, Ballykelly will be an unacceptable and unmanageable distance to travel,” she added.
“Moving the Fisheries Division to Ballykelly under the banner of decentralisation defies common sense.
“The objective of decentralisation is to open up access to government departments, reduce travel time/expenses and improve the home and work life balance for staff.”
The MP said she has held a meeting with Dr Malcolm McKibben the head of the civil service to discuss this proposal and highlight the need for the Fisheries Division to be relocated to South Down.
“I will be making further representations and holding further discussions with the relevant officials and the minister on this matter,” she added.
“Decentralisation was designed to improve access to government departments, not take them further away from their areas of delivery and responsibility.
“It is therefore vital that the department actively consider the relocation of the Fisheries Division to South Down.
“We have many opportunities for staff relocation in South Down, many buildings ready and fit for purpose that could accommodate the Fisheries Division.
“We also have a ready made highly trained and knowledgeable workforce for future vacancies or recruitment within the department,” Ms Ritchie added.