Warning that taxes must not be gambled on horses: Close

Seamus Close MLA (Lagan Valley) has said he is following with interest media coverage concerning the proposal by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to move its equine programmes from Enniskillen to Greenmount.

The Northern Ireland Audit Office published a damning report on the Irish Sport Horse Genetic Testing Unit in Necarne in 2000, listing “weak financial management” and significant conflicts of interest as issues of concern.

Mr Close stated:

“During my time in the local Public Accounts Committee prior to suspension, the committee had dealt in some depth with the issue of the Irish Sport Horse Genetic Testing Unit at Necarne. This had proven to be somewhat of a white elephant, costing over £3.2 million of taxpayers’ money and creating huge embarrassment for the Department.

“One would have hoped that DARD would have learned lessons from that report. I have no doubt that any transfer of facilities from Enniskillen to Greenmount would be a very costly exercise. As the Department has already incurred considerable expenditure on developing and maintaining the Enniskillen site, they would need to produce compelling and transparent justification for supporting any move.

“Given the pressures there are on the public purse, and the Department’s track record in the equine industry, I am not convinced that this proposal should be given any degree of priority. It is not a ‘sure thing’. However, I look forward to an open consultation process which will provide the Department with an opportunity to demonstrate to all what it considers to be the real benefits of any transfer.

“It should also provide those with knowledge of the industry, as well as the ordinary taxpayer, an opportunity to have their say on these proposals. We simply cannot afford to see taxpayers’ money gambled away on horses.”

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