A civil service union has threatened to take legal action unless the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) provides further reasons for the relocation of 800 jobs from Belfast to Co Londonderry.
DARD is to relocate from its Dundonald House headquarters to the Executive-owned site of the former Shackleton army barracks in Ballykelly by 2015.
The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) said it has not yet seen a business case for the move and will consider taking legal action if DARD does not carry out an equality impact assessment.
NIPSA's assistant general secretary Kieran Bannon said while the union was not against decentralisation and the fair distribution of jobs, the move has to “make sense” from an operational and financial point of view.
East Belfast councillor, Jim Rodgers (right) fully supports NIPSA's call for an equality impact assessment to be carried out.
“The minister has gone about this in a completely ham-fisted way, with very little consideration for the impact it will have. I am all for creating civil service job opportunities in rural areas but to uproot 800 people who have settled into life in Belfast is a bit extreme.
“I am also opposed to the fact that these jobs will be taken from the east Belfast area,” he said
President of the Ulster Farmers' Union, Harry Sinclair, said the move could prove expensive.
“The current location in east Belfast, close to Stormont is ideal. The difficulty I see is that high paid civil servants who communicate with government a lot will spend up to three hours a day on the road travelling, so that is going to be an additional cost to the taxpayer,” he said.
A DARD spokeswoman confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph that an equality impact assessment will be carried out.
Minister O'Neill confirmed that none of the employees at the Belfast office would be forced to relocate.
The relocation has been welcomed in Derry, which recently suffered the loss of 1,000 jobs when the army camp closed.
MP for east Derry, Gregory, Campbell, said: “I imagine several hundred jobs will be created as it would be a long commute for people who currently work in the Belfast headquarters.”