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Department of Agriculture to relocate its HQ to north west

An entire Northern Ireland Government department is on the move in a bid to boost public sector jobs in the hard-hit north west.

Around 800 jobs are being shifted from Belfast close to Londonderry — but it is not clear how many of the existing staff are happy to relocate.

The long-awaited decision will also mean a Sinn Fein minister being given a new headquarters at a former British Army base.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) — headed by Michelle O’Neill — is being uprooted and replanted at the former military barracks site at Ballykelly.

It is where the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) planted a bomb at a disco almost 30 years ago, killing 11 soldiers and six civilians in what became known as the Droppin’ Well massacre.

Now long vacant, the Shackleton base was one of a number of former Ministry of Defence-owned properties gifted to the Executive.

After more than two years of discussions, a final decision to shift DARD was finalised at the first Stormont Executive meeting of the autumn on Monday.

For years its base has been at Dundonald House, less than a mile from Stormont Castle in east Belfast, although it had come under increasing pressures in recent years — including flooding earlier this summer.

But none of the current 800-plus staff will be forced to make the move.

Ms O’Neill said she intends to work with staff and trade unions to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible.

Work is due to begin on the site next year, but could take more than 18 months, with the the new headquarters ready for occupation in 2015.

A total of £13m for the project was set aside in the current Stormont Budget, with the hope of an equal amount in the next Budget period.

MLAs had lobbied for a number of locations including the Ards Peninsula, Mid-Ulster, Lagan Valley and Craigavon.

There had been speculation the new HQ would be at Loughry, near Cookstown, where the minister already works one day per week.

Another possibility was the former Maze prison.

But on Monday the minister ended months of speculation when she said: “For too long the only opportunity for people to be civil servants, and to gain promotion in their jobs, has been in the greater Belfast area.

“This will allow some people to work closer to home.”

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said it was welcome good news for an area which has seen many job losses.


A project team to examine the relocation of the Department of Agriculture met for the first time in March last year. After four meetings, it finalised a paper which looked at the likely “human resource” issues for the approximate 800 DARD staff. Sinn Fein retained the Agriculture portfolio following last year’s Assembly election, with Michelle O’Neill taking over from Michelle Gildernew. Initial recommendations were made to ministers earlier this year.

Belfast Telegraph