DARD Accused Of Increasing Rural Poverty

NORTHERN IRELAND, UK - Thousands of smaller farmers in Northern Ireland (NI) are being discriminated against by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) at a cost of many tens of thousands of pounds to the rural economy. A decision must be rescinded quickly, says the National Beef Association (NBA).
calendar icon 23 November 2009
clock icon 2 minute read

The hard-hitting view of Oisin Murnion, NI chairman National Beef Association, follows revelations that DARD will not pay interest owed to farmers on late Less Favoured Areas (LFA) payments if less than £50.

“The money kept from an individual farmer may hardly amount to a day’s pay, but given the large number of LFA small holdings in total a huge sum is being held back from our least well off townlands,” Mr Murnion said.

In a press release the NBA have said they fully supports farmers' and a NI politician, Tom Elliott’s call for all interest to be paid now. "Let us have equal treatment for all as DARD collect interest owed to them by farmers down to the very last penny in cases where an over payment has been made."

The NBA would remind the regional minister and her senior civil servants that rural poverty is an issue, not least inside the LFAs. According to DARD’s own figures 70 per cent of the 26,146 active farm businesses in NI are in Less Favoured Areas. Indeed of those farms designated as inside a LFA over half, 56 per cent, are in a Severely Disadvantaged Area (SDA).

Looking further at government statistics one finds that only a quarter of farms in the LFAs are classified as medium or large, compared to 39 per cent in non LFA districts!

Thus, the NBA say that farms in LFA areas, and especially SDAs, tend to be smaller so these farmers need every pound that’s owned to them as guardians of the uplands and food producers. It is a total disgrace that these are the very people DARD has rebutted and refused to pay. DARD being the very government department who state that the SDA is characterised by the prevalence of small holdings.

“Why this change of policy? Is it to speed up a new highland clearance under our devolved government, is it to save civil servants the trouble of having to send out these small payments or is it simply a total lack of respect by the departmental hierarchy for small farmers?” an angry Mr Murnion asked.

“Over a 10 year period up to 2007 the number of farms in these severely disadvantaged areas fell by an alarming 27 per cent. By discriminating against small farmers DARD are speeding up this stripping of farmers from the hills and wrecking a rural social structure EU policy seeks to save. The NBA calls for clarity from the regional farm minister and her officials, who should be ashamed of taking money from small farmers to make life easier for administrators,” added a Kilkeel farmer and NBA leader.

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