Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Parties 'connived' to choose new home for DARD

A political deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP was behind the decision to move a government department to Ballykelly instead of to Strabane, a local MLA has claimed.

A political deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP was behind the decision to move a government department to Ballykelly instead of to Strabane, a local MLA has claimed.

It has emerged that Strabane was top of the list of places to relocate the Department of Agriculture and Regional Development (DARD) to.

However, Minister Michelle O'Neill announced in September that the 800 civil servant jobs in her department would instead go to the Shackleton Barracks site in Ballykelly from 2015.

This has been met with fury by SDLP's Joe Byrne, MLA for Strabane, who has accused the two main political parties of “dark dealings” over the move.

Mr Byrne said: “This was an example where Strabane — one of the unemployment black spots — could have been helped by the Assembly, but they failed and instead it would appear that Sinn Fein connived with the DUP in a dirty deal to pick Ballykelly over Strabane.

“There are serious questions to be answered as to why Ballykelly was selected without a business plan having been done,” he added. The DUP's Gregory Campbell, MLA for East Londonderry, dismissed Mr Byrne's suggestion as nonsense and illogical.

He said: “It is complete and utter nonsense to suggest that there were any deals done when the logical choice for relocating DARD is Ballykelly given the fact that the site was actually costing the Executive £100,000 a year on maintenance and security.”

A spokesman for DARD confirmed that the top two possible sites were Strabane and Ballykelly, but a potential saving of £26m tipped the balance in favour of Ballykelly.

He said: “There were a number of steps that were taken before the minister reached her final decision.

“The availability of (the Ballykelly site) free of charge is an objective criterion on which to base the final decision given that using this site and the buildings available has the potential to reduce the cost of this relocation from the £26m that is the estimated cost of a new build,” he added.

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