The Ulster Farmers’ Union has announced that it is to co-ordinate a major demonstration of the wider agri-food industry at Stormont on Friday of this week in the run up to a crunch meeting of European farm ministers on September 7 in Brussels.
The aim, says UFU president, Ian Marshall, is to let the agri-food industry in Northern Ireland to send a very clear message to the European Commission that the entire economy, and not only farmers, must accept the seriousness of the position facing all parts of the local farming and food industry.
Referring to the choice of Stormont for the demonstration Mr Marshall said that even though the Assembly is in recess he is hopeful of political support.
He added that the choice of venue also reflected an aim to demonstrate, without inconveniencing consumers who have been supportive of the industry by seeking out local food.
“People in Northern Ireland understand the importance of a vibrant food industry to the local economy – our aim is to make sure this message is heard in Brussels. We do not want to be in a situation where the farm commissioner, Phil Hogan, sees protests in Dublin, Paris or anywhere else but not in Belfast – and uses that as a reason to conveniently ignore us,” said Mr Marshall.
A sizeable UFU delegation will also join forces with farmers from across the EU at next Monday’s protest in Brussels. This is being held to coincide with the meeting of the Commission with national farm ministers to discuss the income crisis facing farmers throughout Europe. The event will be attended by Northern Ireland’s farm minister, Michelle O’Neill.
Mr Marshall says her presence in support of local farmers also raises very real concerns about the vacuum that could be created if the local Executive or Assembly were to collapse.
“As a body the UFU never has and will not engage directly in mainstream politics. However over this issue the government at Westminster and the devolved administration here, in Scotland and in Wales have very different views of what the industry need. We are concerned that in an era of UK devolution we risk being marginalised in Westminster and Brussels if we do not have our own local political representation,” said Mr Marshall.
Meanwhile, a letter of protest will be handed into the European Commission Office in Belfast tomorrow (Thursday September 3) at 12 noon by members of the Fair Price Farming NI group. A spokesperson for the organisation said that this would be the last chance to influence Commissioner Hogan before the Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels on September 7th.