MLA urges probe into DARD flood plan

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ROBIN Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assemblyman and member of the Stormont Culture and Agriculture Committees, has called on the Executive’s Farming Minister to implement an urgent inquiry into her Department’s “totally inadequate response to the recent snap flooding which caused the DARD office to be closed”.

Assemblyman Swann is also North Antrim UUP Chairman and Party Chief Whip, and is a Past President of the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster and a Past Chairman of the influential Rural Youth Europe organisation.

Assemblyman Swann said: “I was shocked to learn that during the recent snap floods, the DARD headquarters was itself closed due to flooding and Agriculture Minister and her senior staff had to be relocated to another headquarters.

“While DARD was trying to maintain basic services, surely the Minister should have had a contingency plan in place? There have been more than enough severe weather situations in recent years to warrant such a scheme being put in place immediately so that DARD can maintain its full service to the farming community.

“It is important that while DARD is not operating at full capacity, that farmers keep a precise record of all attempts to contact the Department as farmers should not be penalises because to this situation.

“Herd records are vitally important and must be accurately maintained, so I encourage farmers to contact DARD’s direct offices with their information.

“With this severe weather and the strains it puts on farmers and the rural population, the last thing we need is further stress being added due to DARD having to relocate its HQ.

“At the earliest opportunity, the Farming Minister must implement an urgent inquiry to assess the suitability of her Department’s contingency plans. They are clearly inadequate at the moment.

“What is also crucial at this time is Rivers Agency’s ability to function to its full ability, as its role in these current weather conditions is vital.

“We will be heavily reliant on our rivers being able to cope and take the falling rain off the land. Any inquiry into DARD’s competence at handling and operating during severe weather conditions should take this into account,” said Assemblyman Swann.