Ulster Unionist Agriculture Spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson MLA has criticised the DARD Minister Michelle O'Neill after it was revealed essential farm training courses are to be axed with the loss of over 20 CAFRE staff.
The Upper Bann MLA said;
“It is ridiculous that short farming courses at Greenmount College have been axed. Given the very difficult number of years agriculture has had in terms of farm accidents and farm fatalities, courses such as those teaching tractor handling methods or health and safety policies remain more important now than ever. Instead of being cancelled, these courses should be enhanced.
“Whilst I understand DARD will have to deliver savings in light of the reduced levels of public expenditure available, cutting schemes of relatively small cost such as these courses is absurd.
“In addition, despite Sinn Fein repeatedly stating that they will not implement any compulsory job losses in the public sector, that is exactly what is happening at Greenmount. These staff have been sacked; there was nothing ‘voluntary’ about it.
"Significant scope exists in DARD to make these savings from elsewhere. For example, the Department spent £42m on administration in 2014/15. That was £2m more than what it had spent in 2011 and something that is inexcusable considering many other Executive Department's have been able to slash their administrative costs.
"The decision to cut these training courses also highlights the ludicrousness of the Department’s intention to spend over £40m on a brand new Headquarters, despite no full business case ever being produced. Once again I would urge the Minister to set her own Party’s political interests aside and look at the issue objectively. She could save tens of millions by simply using the empty DVLA buildings in Coleraine, as well as providing much needed employment in that town, with this saving in turn then being able to protect essential training courses for our agricultural industry.”