Alliance MP Mrs Long met with Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) Minister Michelle O’Neill today (Monday) to state in person her opposition to the proposed shift of the Department’s headquarters from Dundonald to a former Army base in Ballykelly, a move estimated to cost up to £44 million, and which will see over 750 jobs moved by 2020. A recent survey within DARD showed 86 per cent of staff are not prepared to work in Ballykelly.
Mrs Long, who also met with trade union representatives last week on the matter, said any such move runs the risk of a downturn in the delivery of the functions of the Department, consequences the Minister did not appear receptive to.
“Alliance has raised concerns about this move previously. While we are not opposed to the decentralisation of jobs on a regional basis, this particular proposal is not supported by a robust business case, and given the current economic climate, Departmental resources would be best invested in service delivery, rather than reorganisation and relocation.
“While it would undoubtedly be a boost for the north-west, the impact for staff currently working in East Belfast would be life-changing. I sought reassurances that staff who did not wish to relocate would not have to, which the Minister seemed to take onboard; however, there still remains the question of a potential equality impact assessment, as people with carer responsibilities would find it harder to relocate.
“I also informed the Minister this move is particularly poor timing, given the Stormont House Agreement made provision for Rivers Agency to be transferred to a different Department. The incoming Minister may have a different plan, so this seems premature.
“While I am pleased the Minister offered some reassurances over workers’ futures, I remain disappointed she did not agree with the principle concern – that this move would bring a large number of job losses to East Belfast and cause serious internal disruption in the Department.”