Calls for agriculture show support scheme

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Newry and Armagh DUP assemblyman and DAERA committee member, William Irwin MLA, has written to the DAERA Minister Andrew Muir MLA to request that a “serious conversation” is held around the delivery of financial support for agricultural shows.

Mr Irwin said the value and impact of agriculture shows in the wider community is “significant and positive” and a support fund warrants the fullest ministerial consideration.

He commented: “I very much believe that our agricultural shows, which take place right across the province, bring an immense benefit to our agri-food industry, to the community and to families and are very much cherished in the calendar as ‘must attend’ rural events.

“I think locally of Armagh Show and what an amazing day out it is in the picturesque and easily accessible Gosford Forest Park.

William Irwin MLA with a show exhibitor and his colleague Edwin Poots MLA.William Irwin MLA with a show exhibitor and his colleague Edwin Poots MLA.
William Irwin MLA with a show exhibitor and his colleague Edwin Poots MLA.

“The sheer scale of the show and the level of work and expense that goes into setting up the show, running the show and then dismantling all the exhibits and attractions, is huge and it takes a massive effort from the organisers, led by hard working Mrs Flo McCall, who all give so freely of their time to ensure that the public has a very memorable day out.”

Mr Irwin continued: “The showing of animals is a huge part of the occasion and this is a very important part of the show scene. Animal exhibitors put a significant effort in to the preparation of their animals for show days and, obviously, winning a prize means a lot for pedigree breeders.

“The entire collective of show organisations must be commended for this dedication in terms of hosting what are considerably large events year on year, and it is this positive and wide ranging contribution to society and to the industry that must be fully recognised by the minister.”

Concluding, Mr Irwin said: “I know that my friend and colleague Edwin Poots MLA when he was DAERA Minister, provided a Covid pandemic support fund for shows, and this was very well received. He also commissioned a review of agricultural shows in the province as he felt longer term support was warranted.

“With the report making some very worthwhile suggestions on support strategies, I am still very much of the view that our shows should be offered longer term financial assistance and that is something I have raised with the new DAERA Minister.

“I will await Mr Muir’s response with interest, as will our show organisations.

“Our shows need the backing of the department ,and that is something that needs to be taken forward at pace it deserves the fullest consideration of the minister.”

Meanwhile, Mr Irwin’s DUP colleague, MLA Diane Dodds, has shared her concerns for the future of local agriculture shows and the need for urgent action by DAERA after attending a meeting hosted by the Northern Ireland Shows Association.

Diane Dodds said: “I recently met with the Northern Ireland Shows Association who are extremely concerned for the future of rural agriculture shows and how DAERA are failing to provide financial support in the face of rising costs.

“Agriculture shows are part and parcel of rural life and, for many, the social event of the year.

“From young farmer competitions to the prize for best dressed man or woman, the variety and reach is like nothing else in these areas.

“The backbone of these shows are dedicated volunteers and lots of hard work. In many cases gate fees, sponsorship and trade stands which at best barely cover the costs, with many shows now operating at a deficit.”

She continued: “DAERA are well aware of the position facing shows, with financial support of over £100,000 provided to help shows recover the fall out of Covid 19.

“However, the need for long-term support was also identified and recommendations made via a DAERA funded report – ‘Independent Resilience Review of Agricultural Shows in Northern Ireland’.

“I asked the Minister for an update on their commitment to local shows, but there was nothing of substance in the reply.

“I fear that DAERA will continue to dither and delay meaning rural shows will disappear. The financial resources in question are a very tiny fraction of the department’s budget.

“The message from Saturday’s meeting was one of despair and without long term support from DAERA many will disappear. That will have a further knock-on impact on the cohesion of rural communities leading to even greater levels of rural isolation,” Mrs Dodds concluded.