South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has hit out at the Department for Agriculture while speaking at her party’s annual SDLP conference in Armagh.
“The Agri-Food industry forms the bedrock of our local economy. It must be protected at a local, regional and European level. The message must be loud and clear – there must be a co-operative approach between the industry; the local community and government to sustain and build the agri-food sector on an all-island basis. The survival of this generation and future generations of people on this island depend on such an approach to the agri-food sector.
“The European Parliament and Commission are nearing the end of the process that will decide the future shape of the Common Agricultural Policy. The SDLP need to have a direct political input into those negotiations at a European level. That is why it is imperative that we have a central role in Brussels to decide the future of our farming industry.
“We must use every political lever we have to persuade Brussels and the UK Government that they can deliver a better deal for our farmers.
“In my role as the only Northern Ireland member of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee in Westminster I have ensured that the Coalition Government now have a much clearer picture of the needs of the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland.
“There is a compelling political imperative for us to ensure that the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy reflects the needs of our farming industry on this island; that the definition of an active farmer is fully reflected through future subsidies and that proper transitional arrangements are put in place. We must also retain our historical share of the CAP budget and that the position of land taken in conacre is fully recognised.
“We want no repeat of the delays in payments to farmers which the Sinn Fein Minister for Agriculture has presided over for quite some time. We want a reduction in the red tape that blights farm businesses, the most recent example being farmers told that grant payment from the Rural Development fund will not now be made because the trailer they purchased is a few inches to long or the cattle crush they purchased is not deemed to be mobile because they have it secured to the ground with removal bolts.
“It is important that we now exert our political influence to ensure a better deal for farmers and the agri-food sector. For too long DARD and their political masters have not put farmers and the agri-food sector first – that must change – that is our political objective – we must use every political lever at our disposal to achieve the best possible outcomes for our farmers in the continuing negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy to under-pin and provide a sustainable bedrock for the agri-food sector on all island basis.”
DARD Minister Says CAP Budget Allocation Successfully Defended
Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has announced that discussions on the allocation of UK CAP budget across the regions have reached a successful conclusion.
Minister O’Neill said: “I am extremely pleased to announce that as a result of our strong arguments in defence of our allocation of the CAP budget for Pillar I and Pillar II, we have succeeded in retaining our historic budget share. The negotiations were difficult and protracted as Scotland was pushing hard for an increased share. When I met with my Ministerial colleagues from Britain at the start of this week, I made it very clear that we needed to bring this matter to a rapid conclusion.
“The decision has now been made and I have secured the outcome I was looking to achieve, which will deliver an additional €20million in support to the local industry between now and 2019. I believe that this represents the fairest possible outcome as the existing budget distribution reflects the nature and agricultural production characteristics across all of the regions.
“I have already voiced my disappointment that the EU Budget deal will leave us with reduced budgets, but as a result of today’s decision, the risk of any further reduction has been avoided. This provides welcome clarity on the CAP monies available in the north and now allows us to move on to decide how these should be best used for the long term benefit of the rural economy and environment.”