To respond to the widest possible range of opportunity and need in rural areas my Department created a flexible and comprehensive rural development programme. It draws on a broad framework of measures from the Northern Ireland programme for building sustainable prosperity, the Peace II programme, the LEADER+ initiative and INTERREG III.
Although the programme will have a focus on disadvantage, its benefits are open to all rural people throughout Northern Ireland, and all members of the rural community have been encouraged to become involved. When I launched the programme on 13 November 2001, I urged all rural people to bring forward ideas, plans and projects. I also announced the publication of a user-friendly signposting document and a video to guide potential applicants through the programme. The launch was followed by a series of roadshows throughout Northern Ireland, which were attended by my Department’s rural area co-ordinators, the Rural Enterprise Division and the Rural Development Council. Moreover, my Department has held various workshops to further publicise the programme.
I declare a relevant interest in this, although not a pecuniary one. I am sure that the Minister is aware that Lisburn Council failed in its bid to achieve LEADER funding and is, therefore, the only area in Northern Ireland that will not benefit from it. How does the Minister propose to assist the 1,000 farm holdings and the rural community in the Lisburn Council area? What assistance has her Department given to Laganside Rural Development, a self-help group set up by the council and the local rural community, in drawing down European funding that other areas will receive?
I totally understand the Member’s interest in the question, and I thank him for it. Lisburn and Lagan Valley were not excluded. As I stated, the selection of LEADER action groups was by competition, and, unfortunately, the Lisburn application did not score as highly as the other 12, and it could not, therefore, be selected.
However, it does not mean that the Lisburn Borough Council area is excluded from the programme. Apart from the natural resource rural tourism initiative, which is located in specific rural areas to meet the requirements of the EU Commission for the allocation of Peace II funds, all other elements of the rural development programme are open to rural groups and bodies in Northern Ireland —