Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill has used a number of speaking occasions over the past seven days to reiterate her total commitment to the decentralisation of services from Belfast.
Addressing a public meeting in Draperstown on Thursday evening past, she said: “I remain committed to taking all reasonable steps to ensure the transition of the Belfast-based headquarters to Ballykelly, the relocation of fisheries to south Down, forestry to Enniskillen and the Rivers Agency to Loughry campus in Cookstown.”
Minister O’Neill has specifically welcomed Cookstown District Council’s decision to approve the planning application for the new Rivers Agency Headquarters at the organisation’s December meeting.
“This is a significant development in the Rivers Agency relocation project, which is part of a wider programme to move DARD jobs into rural areas. As I have said before, my department is leading the way on addressing the redistribution of public sector jobs across the north, which will help share the wealth across the economy and contribute to better balanced economic growth. The benefits for the local community are clear to be seen, particularly around construction and the increased footfall for the area.”
Earlier in the week the minister told members of the Assembly that surveys have been completed for all four locations in order to gather more detailed information, after having done some scoping work in the past.
“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; over 1,000 for Cookstown; almost 1,000 for Downpatrick; and 435 for Enniskillen. That shows a significant appetite for posts outside Belfast. Detailed analysis is now under way to determine grade matches between those who have expressed an interest and the positions at each location.”