Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill led a delegation of Northern Ireland representatives to Brussels to highlight the challenges facing the local dairy farmers to the European Union in Brussels.
The minister led a strong delegation of political and industry representatives to meet Phil Hogan, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development and his senior officials to press for additional EU support for the dairy sector.
Minister O’Neill’s delegation to the specially arranged meeting included MEPs Jim Nicholson, Diane Dodds and Martina Anderson and the chair of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, William Irwin. She pressed for movement on the intervention price and for timely and effective support for the industry in the face of falling milk prices.
The issue will be discussed again by EU farming ministers at a special Agricultural Council meeting in Brussels next Monday which Minister O’Neill will attend.
Speaking afterwards, the minister said: “It was very important for our farming industry that we outlined our unique and extreme circumstances to Commissioner Hogan today. We lobbied hard in the meeting to press for a review of the intervention price.
“I welcome that the Commissioner took the unusual step of receiving a large delegation from the north. I am encouraged that he recognised the unique circumstances of the north and the particular problems faced by our industry.”
Looking ahead to next week’s special Agricultural Council meeting, Minister O’Neill said she will continue to put pressure on the Commission for a review of the intervention price and that it is clear that a number of member states are now also pushing for a review.”
UFU president Ian Marshall was also in Brussels.
Commenting on the meeting he said: “The importance of revisiting intervention was emphasised as being critically important to Northern Ireland especially due to our much greater exposure to world commodity markets and issue was also raised about the merits of Northern Ireland qualifying as a special case.”
He explained that unfortunately, the response from commission officials was not encouraging and while they have not yet reached any final decisions on possible support measures for the dairy sector or indeed the wider agriculture industry in general, they remain unconvinced that a review of dairy intervention is part of the solution to the present difficulties facing the sector.
“They also indicated that a special case for Northern Ireland would be difficult as we are a region within a member state but they did state that potentially this was something that should be raised within the UK,” he concluded.