Page last updated at 17:18 GMT, Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Question Time: Agriculture and Regional Development

The Agriculture Minister defended her decision to transfer the headquarters of her department from Belfast to Ballykelly, in County Londonderry, on 6 November 2012.

Michelle O'Neill said the decision was based on a process which compared 23 possible locations against a given set of criteria.

The minister said the railway line to Derry passed by the Ballykelly site and she had discussed with the Regional Development Minister the possibility of building a halt there.

Sinn Fein's Phil Flanagan asked about the relocation of the Forest Service headquarters to County Fermanagh.

The minister said she hoped this could be completed within 12 to 18 months.

She said it made sense for the Forest Service to be situated in Fermanagh as the county had 15% forest cover, and it could increase to over 20%.

Mrs O'Neill also briefed members on the steps being taken to combat the tree disease known as ash dieback.

She said she had discussed the matter with her southern counterpart and they had agreed to adopt a "fortress Ireland" approach.

The minister told members she had introduced emergency legislation so that ash wood could only be imported under certain technical conditions.

This would allow for the continued production of hurley sticks.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy arrived late for his questions having been delayed in traffic.

His UUP party colleague, Leslie Cree, asked about the result of increasing penalties for parking offences.

The minister said that 37,000 fines had been issued in the 3 months since the increase of charges from £60 to £90.

This was a decrease of just over a tenth compared to the same period in 2011.

Mr Kennedy was asked about the possibility of building a bridge across the Strangford Lough narrows between Portaferry and Strangford in County Down.

The minister said research had indicated that the cost of an aesthetically acceptable bridge had been estimated at over £300m, compared to £1m per year of subsidy for the current ferry service.


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