Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson has called on the Agriculture and Social Development Ministers to protect funding for groups that increase access by Protestant and Unionist communities to the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme.
Jo-Anne Dobson, the Ulster Unionist Party’s Agriculture Spokesperson, said;
“On Tuesday I challenged the Agriculture Minister in the Assembly about concerns regarding the fairness of allocations within the 2007-2013 Rural Development Programme. In particular I highlighted that the overall ratio of Protestant NIRDP beneficiaries to Catholic beneficiaries was considered low in comparison with the Farmers and Farm Families Survey.
“The NIRDP aims to protect and enhance the rural environment, rural businesses and support a thriving rural community. It is essential that the Programme’s new budget of £623m for 2014-2020 is spent fairly and equitably across all communities.
“Whilst I appreciate that the Programme does have a rigorous application process, unfortunately it has been found that communities from a traditional Unionist or Protestant background do require additional support in applying for and accessing this funding support.
“Worryingly however I have been made aware in recent weeks of a very well respected and efficient local organisation that specialises in offering this support being threatened with having their funding withdrawn. If that was the case their offices will have no choice but to close and their staff unfortunately let go. This would come as a devastating blow to the local PUL community that they assist.
“The cost of their support is negligible compared to the overall budget so cutting it would be a retrograde step that would inevitably lead to unfairness of allocations from the new NIRDP.”