UUP announces new agricultural team at Stormont

Harold McKee, Kilkeel exhibits Blackford Eminence during the British Blue Classes at Balmoral Show. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Harold McKee, Kilkeel exhibits Blackford Eminence during the British Blue Classes at Balmoral Show. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

The Ulster Unionist Party has announced its new frontbench team for agriculture, following the recent Assembly election.

Newly elected South Down MLA Harold McKee will become agriculture spokesperson for the Party, while North Antrim MLA Robin Swann has been re-appointed to the Assembly’s DAERA scrutiny committee.

Harold McKee, who is a past Secretary of the Northern Ireland Blue Cattle Club, said he was deeply honoured to have been appointed the Ulster Unionist Party’s agriculture spokesperson taking over the reins from Jo-Anne Dobson, who is now dedicating her time to health.

He added: “I am a farmer by background and I am acutely aware of the challenges facing the industry.

“There is a deep sense of frustration amongst farmers who feel that successive DARD Ministers failed to deliver the support that they should have. Instead of being the farmer’s friend, most people working in the industry believe that the old Agriculture Department went out of its way to be obstructive.

“In addition, rather than dedicating their time and efforts to issues such as working with the processors and retailers to improve the prices our farmers receive for their produce, recent Ministers have been more focussed on pursuing their own flawed political agenda.

“The problems facing our local farmers are clear to see, and the collapse in the total income from farming from £312million in 2014 to £183million in 2015, over 40%, demonstrates the sheer scale of the crisis hitting our local farming families.

“There is widespread instability in the local dairy, beef and lamb markets, and the industry is still reeling from the repercussions of a challenging exchange rate, the major impact of the Russian import ban on EU agri-food produce and the volatility of the market. These, along with support measures, are all issues that I intend to pursue over the coming weeks and months.”

Mr Swann, who has extensive experience on rural affairs as a former President of the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster and Chairman of the Rural Youth Europe organisation, also previously served on the DARD Committee.