Irwin meets with department officials on a range of issues

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DUP Newry & Armagh Assemblyman William Irwin MLA has met with Department officials in Dundonald House this week to raise a number of issues affecting farmers across the province.

Issues covered at the meeting included the significant delay in processing FBIS applications and the hot topic of Bovine TB.

Mr Irwin described the meeting as ‘useful and timely’ and thanked the Departmental Permanent Secretary and his colleagues for taking the time to discuss a range of important issues affecting agriculture at this time.

He added: “I used this important opportunity to discuss the concerns farmers have brought to me on the Farm Business Improvement Scheme and in particular the significant delays on applications, some of which have been in the system in excess of ten months with applicants still unaware if they will be successful.

“I impressed on the officials the fact that farmers who find themselves in this position are frustrated and rightly so, after spending considerable sums of money in getting planning permissions and paying for the services of consultants to help complete the applications. I expressed my concerns that only 20 approvals have been issued to date out of 150 applications that made it through to the assessment stage.

“Officials took on board my concerns and accepted that the process has been slower than anticipated but assured me that every effort is being made to issue as many approvals as possible in the next few weeks. I made the point to the officials that lessons must be learned from Tranche 1 and not repeated if and when Tranche 2 is rolled out,” he added.

“I also had the opportunity to discuss the issue of Bovine TB and the need for a much more proactive approach to drive down incidence rates. TB incidence rates are at almost 10%, the highest level for some years. We also look at other regions whereby wildlife carriers have been effectively controlled and this has resulted in continued downward trends. It is clear when we look at statistics here in Northern Ireland the very obvious rising trend in incidence rates requires a more robust approach and wildlife carriers should be one of the main focuses,” he added.