Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ian Marshall accompanied Agriculture Minister, Michelle O’Neill, to meet with the European Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan.
Accompanied by Dairy UK NI representative Paul Vernon and William Taylor FFA, the delegation met with senior members of the EU Agriculture Commissioner’s Cabinet to press for additional support for the dairy sector.
In an unprecedented move Commissioner Hogan hosted this meeting whilst simultaneously convening a further meeting with NI Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s three MEPs and the chairman of the NI Assembly’s Agriculture and Rural Development committee William Irwin. This meeting demonstrates that the Commissioner recognises Northern Ireland as having a unique set of circumstances, as it’s the only meeting he has held with any region within a member state.
Speaking after the meeting Ian Marshall says the delegation strongly pressed the case for dairy intervention to be reviewed and for the utilisation of tools to halt the dairy market ‘free fall’ to assist with returning stability to the market place.
“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 said.
“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.”
The merits of Aids to Private Storage and the possibility of providing direct support payments were also discussed. However, the commission officials stressed that any limited funding that might be available would likely be ‘spread too thinly’ and ultimately be meaningless to individual producers.
Against this background it was recognised there was no single solution to the current crisis in the EU’s dairy industry and that any commission assistance would potentially be via a combination of measures or actions.
“We did however affirm that we would continue to apply pressure at the highest level but ultimately a genuine market recovery was necessary for a resolution in the longer term,” he said.
The UFU is co-ordinating a major agri-food industry demonstration this Friday at Stormont in the run up to a crunch meeting of EU farm ministers in Brussels on Monday, at which a sizeable UFU delegation will join forces with farmers from across Europe, to highlight the serious financial difficulties facing all sectors of the agriculture industry.