Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has clashed with the head of an Assembly scrutiny committee over claims the industry views her department “like a police force”.
The DUP’s Paul Frew told the minister many involved in the agri-food sector feel they are struggling “with hands tied behind their backs”.
But the Sinn Fein minister denied the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has “handcuffed” the |industry — while claiming “no one will ever by fully satisfied” by its efforts.
The exchange came during a discussion on the Assembly Agriculture Committee on closer links with the Republic to maximise marketing potential in global markets.
Committee chairman, Mr Frew, said: “The industry tells me that it feels that we are almost at the point at which DARD is more of a police force than a support mechanism and that, at times, it feels that its hands are handcuffed behind its back.”
But Ms O’Neill hit back: “I don’t think you can say that. DARD is putting the £500m for the rural development programme into rural communities.
“We also do work with skills and innovation, research and development and the education colleges. That is positive stuff. I do not think that you can say that any of that is handcuffing anybody.”