Concern over withdrawal of services

Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott has called on Michelle O’Neill to reconsider proposals that could see the services and opening times of DARD Direct offices across Northern Ireland reduced.

Tom Elliott, MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, said: “DARD Direct Offices have played a very valuable role over recent years in giving our farmers practical support through the delivery of online, telephone and most importantly face-to-face services. There are 11 offices in total and each not only allow farmers to engage with DARD staff directly but also offer other practical measures such as computer terminals with internet access and distribute DARD payment forms.

“I was deeply concerned to be informed that the Department are now seeking to significantly reduce the services offered, including removing the issuing of farm maps and application forms. In addition I have also been told that the opening hours, which are currently 9am-4pm Monday-Friday, are likely to be reduced.

“The whole point of the DARD Direct Offices was so that they would act as a one-stop-shop approach designed to improve the delivery of DARD services to farmers and farm families. On the whole they do work and the staff working from the offices are well respected and greatly valued by the local farming community.

“If the Department does reduce their services and opening times, and brings the services back into Orchard House, it totally defeats the original intention of making the entire system more user friendly and accessible for our farmers. I will be contacting the Minister directly and calling on her to reconsider any proposals to reduce the service,” added Mr Elliott.