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Areas of Natural Constraint Scheme

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP 3:00 pm, 7th November 2016

Thank you for that, Mr Speaker. The Member has tempted me into committing my colleague to certain things, which is a very dangerous position for a Minister to be in. I am not going to do that, as guided by the Speaker.

I understand why the Member asked the question. When I look at the data in front of me on the current area of natural constraints scheme, I see that businesses in her constituency — some 2,708 — have received support of around £5·3 million. So, I understand why the Member would ask the question and ask it in the way that she did.

The Minister is, rightly, taking her time to carefully consider the issue. She has made it clear what she is doing. As I outlined in my answer to the substantive question, there is a very good reason why she does not want to fund a scheme under pillar 1 and why she does not want to do a pillar 1 to pillar 2 transfer, namely because of the pressures that are already on pillar 1. Therefore, she is looking at other options that might be available to her.

I accept that there will be many, including many of the Member's constituents, waiting for an answer and hoping for a positive one, but I am sure that the Member will appreciate and understand, and therefore communicate to those people, that there are good and valid reasons why the Minister has not agreed to fund a scheme out of pillar 1 or to switch from pillar 1 to pillar 2.

Like all Ministers, her budget is under immense pressures elsewhere, but be assured that the Minister is taking her time to carefully consider what options might be available to her, including a bid during the upcoming Budget round.