BUSINESS is already picking up pace at Parliament Buildings with MLAs having been appointed to lead the assembly committees that will scrutinise the work of the executive departments.
Sinn Fein MLA Declan McAleer has been selected as chair of the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, with his fellow party member Philip McGuigan appointed as vice-chair.
Mr McAleer said he was “honoured” to have been elected to the position.
He commented: “I have a proven track record in advancing rural development during my time in the Assembly, having previously participated on the committees for both agriculture and infrastructure.
“There are undoubtedly many challenges facing the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, but there are also great opportunities.
“In the immediate future Brexit is due to come into effect. This poses serious challenges for rural farmers, businesses and communities; I am committed to using my new role as chair of the committee to protect the interests of our farm families and rural communities.”
Highlighting other areas in need of attention, he continued: “Other priorities that I will work to is the implementation of a new agriculture and rural strategy, the inclusion of rural issues in the Programme for Government, the restoration of the Areas of Natural Constraint scheme and the release of the de minimus funding for Sperrins farmers devastated by the 2017 floods.
“I will also work to ensure that TRPSI and other anti-poverty measures in the department are protected and exert influence to ensure that Project Stratum targets the many broadband ‘not-spots’ in rural areas.”
Turning to the environment, he added: “We are also facing a climate breakdown and a biodiversity crisis and I will also work to ensure that the department acts in a way that recognises the scale of the crises we all face. I will work to ensure that farmers are treated as part of the solution and not part of the problem.
“Sinn Féin will continue to work for a regionally balanced Executive which adequately invests in our rural communities and protects their interests in government.”