Stephen Farry stated:
“I am staggered at the complacency of the Minister and also the Chair of the Agriculture Committee along with other interest groups over this steep fine from the European Union. This is an issue of interest to the whole community in Northern Ireland.
“To put the level of this fine in perspective, it equates to a quarter of the entire DARD annual budget and half as much again as the cuts from Northern Ireland public spending by the Treasury this year.
“Irrespective of whether this fine is transmitted from the European Union via the UK Treasury the Northern Ireland Executive, the net result will be the same. Scarce resources will have to be diverted from elsewhere in order to bail out DARD. This body blow comes at a time of ever tightening public finances, and puts extra pressure on key areas such as health and education, and undermines opportunities to grow and rebalance our economy.
“I find it staggering that the Minister can shrug her shoulders and say that no-one is really to blame. Accountability is critical and I imagine the Audit Office will eventually have plenty to say on this matter. In the short-term, the Minister should be before the Assembly making a full statement.
“Like anyone with an interest in protecting public services and resources for economic recovery, I do hope that the Minister and the Executive are able to reduce the level of this fine. But surely the best way of making representations to the EU is actually acknowledge the problem rather than downplaying or dismissing it, and demonstrating that accountability is working and that lessons are being learnt.”