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O’Neill highlights success of the Rural Development Programme

Farming and rural communities have availed of more than £374million in support from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s current EU funded Rural Development Programme (RDP).

Addressing delegates at the Rural Development Council’s ‘Making a Difference’ rural stakeholder event in Cookstown, Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill said the Programme has been successful in meeting the needs of people living and working in rural areas across the north. 

She said: “Our rural communities face many challenges and issues, such as access to services, lack of affordable housing stock and limited employment opportunities, which affect the viability of rural communities in the long-term. 

“As Minister I am determined that support and funding will reach the communities and businesses that need it most. I am equally committed to making the process of securing this support and funding as straightforward as possible for applicants.

“The current RDP has been a key source of support for our farming and rural sectors and as Minister I have allocated more than £374million under the current Programme. Throughout the countryside we can see evidence of how the RDP is helping to serve the needs of local communities, and by working in partnership through such programmes we will continue to make a significant contribution to meeting the challenges that lie ahead and, in turn, create sustainable rural communities.”

Looking to the future the Minister told delegates that it is crucial that the next RDP builds upon the many successes of the current Programme and with a possibly reduced budget it is more important than ever to produce a Programme which is responsive to the needs of industry, is as efficient as possible, and achieves maximum value for money.

She said: “I want to see a new Programme that not only meets the needs of, but strengthens significantly the competitiveness of our agri-food businesses, protects and enhances our environment and enriches the lives of all our rural dwellers. 

“The decisions taken at EU level on the rural development budget allocations to Member States are extremely disappointing as we are potentially facing reductions of around 22% in real terms over the 2014 – 2020 period compared with the 2013 level.

“It is therefore more important than ever that we produce a Programme which is responsive to the needs of industry, is as efficient as possible, and achieves maximum value for money. Listening to and understanding the needs of our stakeholders is essential to this outcome.”

The Minister concluded: “The RDC works to support and encourage integrated rural development actions that recognise and value the contribution of agriculture, rural regeneration, the environment and culture in realising its vision of 'a living, working, sustainable and shared countryside. I am delighted to be at this event today to support further consultation on the RDC strategic direction for the period 2013-2016 and to listen to stakeholders in discussion on wider rural needs and opportunities.”

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