The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland (DARD) is set to lose £30m from its annual budget, which will be largely funded through 300 redundancies.

Responding to these developments the North’s Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said the Executive’s draft budget for 2015/16 has been a focus of debate over the last number of months, particularly given the scale of Tory cuts.

“This is a difficult budget, with pressures resulting directly from cuts imposed by the British Government and I expect further reductions in the future as our block grant from Westminster will continue to be reduced.

“The reductions will have implications for all Departments, including DARD. My share of the cuts equates to £29.9m. This will be very difficult for my Department to deliver within one year, particularly as over half of my costs relate to staff.

“I do, however, recognise the need to balance my budget, and I will consult with stakeholders on my proposals between now and the end of December. I am very keen to hear the views of stakeholders, particularly those that live in the rural community, who may be impacted by the savings proposals.”

Minister O’Neill went on to point out that despite the obvious challenges which the reduction in budget presents, she will not be deterred from delivering her policy priorities and her Department’s commitments in the Programme for Government.

“This includes tackling rural poverty and social isolation, which remain a key priority for me.  And I will ensure funding is provided for the Programme in 2015-16,” she further explained.

“I also intend to bolster rural economies through the Department’s programme of relocation which has already been announced and the necessary £4.2 million of funding has been allocated in my Budget proposals.

“I will also allocate £3m of funding to initiate some of the actions identified in the ‘Going for Growth’ strategy. A key feature of this investment will be the delivery of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme. This represents an initial step towards delivering longer term investment. Farm businesses will, however, need to have sound business plans in place before both they and the Executive commit significant amounts of capital into their business.”