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Budget 2016-17

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:45 pm on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Oliver McMullan Oliver McMullan Sinn Féin 5:45 pm, 19th January 2016

No, I will not. Your party did not give way to anybody. She secured over £600 million for the rural development programme. I have to say that, within the Budget, I recognise that the A5 and A6 road schemes represent major infrastructure that will help to grow the economy and the farming industry. This could all lead to an all-Ireland economy. Indeed, I have to mention the A8, which Minister McIlveen opened recently. That will be a big help too because of the volume of agricultural exports that leaves Larne harbour.

One of the major things that the Minister did was to introduce, through her Department and as part of the Programme for Government, the tackling rural poverty and social isolation (TRPSI) programme. That was also mentioned in the rural White Paper, and it was a big thing for rural areas. It involved quite a lot of the community groups in rural areas and showed up a lot of the things that were missing from rural areas. While in his previous post, I spoke to the Minister about social housing. That was one of the things that came up through the maximising access in rural areas (MARA) project in the TRPSI programme. One of the good things was that, for the first time, we had local people doing local work. Those are the people who identified the programmes. The whole programme levered down something like £3 million. There was recognition of fuel poverty, the boiler replacement scheme, welfare etc. Within that as well, we had £10 million set aside for rural tourism. Some £5 million went into forestry in my own area.

In finishing, I say to the Minister that, within my area of east Antrim, we have the lowest per capita investment from Invest NI in any of the programmes for small to medium-sized enterprises, some of which are aligned to the farming industry. That needs to be worked at. We are short of social housing. A lot of initiatives were taken through the TRPSI programme. If anybody needs any information on rural deprivation, the MARA project has it sitting there. I ask the Minister to ask his Department to look at that because it could save money in the long run. The information on how we can regenerate the rural economy is sitting there.

Once again, I congratulate Minister O'Neill. When the mandate is over, she will be recognised as a Minister who listened to the agriculture community and got things done.