The NI Fisheries Minister Michelle O’Neill has announced that her Department’s Fisheries Division will be relocating from Belfast to South Down.
As yet the exact location has not been revealed as a business case has to be examined and the options have to be weighted up. But Down News understands that Rathkeltair House may be strongly tipped to be in the running as it already houses the area Department of Agriculture section and has ample parking facilities.
The Minister said: “I have decided that the Fisheries Division will be located close to the fishing ports in South Down as this will enable staff to strengthen their relationships with the industry. It will deliver more high quality public sector jobs in a rural location, and affords a prospect of better career development for staff currently based in the fishing ports.
“Taken with the decisions which I announced last year that the DARD Headquarters will relocate to Ballykelly and the Forest Service Headquarters would relocate to Fermanagh, these decisions will accelerate the Department’s movement to being more modern, more efficient, and more accessible to rural dwellers, delivering greater benefits to rural communities.”
Fishing Industry Delighted With Relocation of Fisheries Offices to South Down
Northern Ireland Fish Producers’ Organisation Chief Executive Dick James has welcomed the move saying: “The fishing industry in County Down is delighted at the news from the Minister.
“A Fisheries Division close to the heart of the commercial fishing industry in County Down will put the civil servants in much closer contact with what is going on and create for positive focus all round. It will also be a big time saver for boat owners and fishermen who won’t have to make the long run up tp Dundonald to conduct their business.”
Hazzard Delighted At DARD Decision to Locate Fisheries Divison to South Down
Chris Hazzard MLA said he is delighted that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) have announced that the DARD Fisheries Office will be relocated to South Down.
Mr Hazzard said: “I have been lobbying the DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill about siting the DARD Fisheries Office to the South Down area.
“The South Down ports of Ardglass, Kilkeel and Portavogie are well known throughout Ireland as major fishing ports so South Down is the perfect location for the Fisheries Office.
“Sinn Féin promised at the beginning of this term to decentralise governmental departments and Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has been to the fore in delivering this.
“This decision is a major boost to the South Down region and a reversal of the trend of people commuting into greater Belfast and will also add to the local economy.
“I will continue to lobby all government departments to consider South Down as an option as the process of decentralisation speeds up and I am confident that further public sector jobs can be secured in the months and years ahead.”
Enright Says Tide is Turning on Public Sector Jobs
Councillor Cadogan Enright who chairs the Public Sector Jobs Taskforce for the Down District area said: “Despite being in operation for less than a year, the Down Public Sector Task Force is making good progress with over 100 jobs either preserved or gained for the District.
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie also responded to the announcement by DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill that the Department’s Fisheries Division relocating to South Down saying it was a ” very welcome, if overdue, piece of news”.
Ms Ritchie said: “I have been campaigning tirelessly since the Minister announced the decentralisation of DARD for her to relocate fisheries to its natural home in South Down – the epicentre of our region’s marine and fisheries economy.
“It was clear from correspondence I received from the Minister that the decision to relocate Fisheries to Ballykelly had been taken in the absence of a business case and detailed information on value for money, potential savings and staff implications.
“This announcement is a vindication of that campaign and the call for the Minister to review her initial decision to relocate to Ballykelly. I have been calling on the Minster to take a fresh decision based on the facts of cost and staffing, and to make the correct decision for the public purse, staff and stakeholders involved. I therefore welcome this change in policy and I look forward to seeing the implementation of the plan and exploring the multiple benefits that it will bring to the area.”
Alliance Welcomes Fisheries Move to South Down
South Down Alliance Spokesperson Councillor Patrick Clarke has welcomed the Agriculture Minister’s announcement that the Fisheries Division will be relocating from Belfast to South Down.
Councillor Patrick Clarke said: “This is great news for South Down, the heart of Northern Ireland’s fishing industry. This move will serve to strengthen the fishing fleet and onshore processing which has been under pressure in recent years.”
DARD MInister Explains Background to the Agriculture Department Reorganisation
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “I remain committed to taking whatever steps are reasonable to assist in the transition of a Belfast based Headquarters to one based in Ballykelly. This in line with the target in the Programme for Government to advance the relocation of DARD Headquarters to a rural location by 2015.
“The survey has been carried out by NISRA on behalf of DARD and applied only to staff in Dundonald House and Hydebank affected by the relocation of DARD’s headquarters to Ballykelly.
“86% of those staff indicated they would not be content to remain in their current posts if the posts transferred to Ballykelly. The next stage will be to issue a survey to the rest of DARD, followed by the wider civil service.
“Relocating these jobs to Ballykelly was never about forcing the staff currently in the jobs to go to Ballykelly – in fact at the outset I gave a commitment to the staff that I would do everything possible to ensure that none of them would be forced to move.
“The civil service has long established policies and procedures to allow staff to move to posts closer to home and my expectation is that staff will transfer out of my Department to other civil service Departments to replace staff who are willing to come to work at the DARD headquarters to avail of the opportunity to move to Ballykelly.
“At this stage we know that there are some 1400 staff across the civil service with home addresses closer to Ballykelly than their current work location. This indicates that there may be a substantial number of staff who would wish to change jobs and also Departments to get a post closer to home.
“That is why at present my officials, with the help of NISRA, are surveying the staff across the rest of DARD to get an indication of the appetite for working in Ballykelly. They are also in consultation with NIPSA about asking the other 25000 or so staff across the rest of the civil service if they would like to come to Ballykelly.
“Work is well underway to develop the business case for the new DARD headquarters. This business case will be informed by supporting work on staff surveys, identification of options to accommodate DARD requirements and an assessment of the equality impacts of the decision to move to a rural location. A decision on the business case is expected in June/July, added the Minister.”