Sinn Féin’s rural affairs spokesperson, Declan McAleer, has expressed grave concern at budget proposals which would cease all the rural affairs programmes within the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).
Mr McAleer said: “Tory/DUP austerity has seriously undermined our capacity to deliver essential public services. Sinn Féin recognises that there are significant financial pressures on our local budget as a result of ongoing Tory/DUP cuts. In response to a proposed budget cut of 7.2% between 2018/19 and 2019-20, DAERA has put forward three scenarios and in all of these they have suggested removing rural affairs as a core function.
“Practically, this will lead to a withdrawal of support for community and rural development to organisations such as RCN, NIRWN, all the Rural Support Networks, Rural Support, RYE and the Social Farming programme leading to staff redundancies and potentially the closure of some of these organisations who rely on core funding.
“This means, for example, that hands-on support with funding applications and provision of small grants, help with Charity Commission registration and reporting, support around community planning, community funding, action planning, health programmes, community and rural development will be terminated in two months.
“I believe this proposal is contrary to the implementation of the Rural Needs Act and the delivery of the Rural Development Programme which is currently bringing investment, jobs and services to rural areas.
“Rural communities are already contemplating their future in the shadow of Brexit which threatens the livelihood of over 20,000 farm families who rely on EU support and access to the EU market. This latest proposal is a further blow to those communities.
“I genuinely fear that unless these proposals are stopped in their tracks there is a real risk that the rural affairs work of DAERA will cease and our communities will suffer hugely detrimental consequences.
“Sinn Féin is seeking a meeting with the department to discuss the proposals.”