David Ford said: “When the Minister announced the sale of Crossnacreevy to fund the Farm Nutrient Management Scheme, I was one of many people who expressed reservations.
“It seemed to be almost a panic reaction to the shortage of funds for FNMS. Although many farm schemes need to be completed urgently – by the end of next year – the Finance Minister was unwilling to release funds for this. Peter Robinson was only willing to provide this vital assistance to farmers, and to comply with European law on pollution, for the promise that DARD would dispose of the Crossnacreevy site.
“However, at question time this week, it emerged that DARD has a very bad deal indeed. The whole Crossnacreevy site is to be sold, even though it may raise more money than is needed for FNMS. Any surplus from the immediate needs of the scheme is to be returned to the Finance Department, rather than held by DARD for future needs.
“I am horrified by the response I got from Michelle Gildernew. She does not seem to have put up any fight on behalf of agriculture. Rather, she lamely said that “any money left over from the sale of the AFBI site will go back to the central pot, and I, along with other Ministers, will be able to bid for part of it”.
“I then pressed the Minister on the basis of the business case for selling this valuable asset and the need to retain funds to meet other urgent needs in DARD, but she merely talked about a “joined-up approach from the Executive”.
“To me, this amounts to asset stripping by the Departments of Agriculture and Finance. DARD faces enormous pressures, and there is much that needs to be done to ensure the viability of local farms. For example, the Minister responded positively to a suggestion from my colleague Kieran McCarthy on encouraging farm co-operatives to develop bio-energy, but gave no indication of financial assistance for this, as happens across the border.
“I do not believe that the Minister has fought for agriculture as well as she might have done, and she appears to have been brow-beaten by the Minister of Finance.”