Speaking at the new Fisheries HQ at Downshire Civic Centre, Ms O’Neill said: "I am delighted to be visiting my fisheries staff in these modern offices and to see how successfully and smoothly the team moved these 50 posts from the Stormont Estate, on time and on budget.
"Downpatrick is an ideal location and clearly demonstrates DARD at the forefront in delivering on the Executive’s commitment to decentralise civil service posts.
"Significantly, it means our fisheries team is closer to the industry and our key fishing ports in Ardglass, Kilkeel and Portavogie. I am certain it will also bring social and economic benefits and encourage other public sector jobs to the town."
Rooney Fish processing plant in Kilkeel was the next stop for the Minister, where she was given a tour of the family-run business. Owner John Rooney, who employs 56 people, spoke to the Minister about support for fish processors to expand into foreign markets and his EFF-funded marketing campaign to promote his business at exhibitions in Europe and Dubai.
Minister O'Neill said: "I've been very impressed by the innovation and determination of the Rooney family to diversify into other types of shellfish and new export markets. It is essential the new marketing project within the Agri-food Strategy Board recognises this important fishing and aquaculture sector."
At Kilkeel Harbour Minister O’Neill officially opened a new £557,000 quay-side Ice Plant facility which will generate tonnes of ice each day for fishermen to use on their vessels to store and preserve catches.
"I am fully aware of the difficulties experienced by our fishermen so it’s great news today that my Department, though the European Fisheries Fund and Executive funding, has been able to provide funding for this new Ice Plant facility. It will provide the ice required by our fishermen to help us to maintain our reputation of landing fresh, high quality produce.
"Congratulations must also go to the Fishery Harbour Authority’s Board for delivering this infrastructure project. DARD’s continuing support for the Authority in developing and improving fishing port facilities serves as recognition of the confidence that government has in the future of our fishing industry," she added.
The final stop of the day was at the Cranfield Beach and Mourne Esplanade Amenity Enhancement Schemes which DARD, through EFF has provided a combined investment of £692,000.
The new facilities at the Mourne Esplanade include a new adult outdoor fitness suite, an upgrade of the pavilion changing rooms and car park extension. At Cranfield Beach paths, roadways and car parking have been enhanced to encourage greater visitor numbers to the area.
The project has also introduced new ‘Mourne’ branded interpretation points, with an emphasis on fishing, site furniture, viewing area and upgraded children’s play park.
After seeing the benefits the recent investment has delivered Minister O’Neill said: "It’s great to see the positive impact these projects will have at both Cranfield and the Mourne Esplanade.
"Not only do these community-led projects look fantastic but they provide much enhanced facilities for the local fishing-dependent communities and visitors alike to the ‘Kingdom of Mourne’. These examples of working together make me confident that we can secure a long-term sustainable fishing industry."