Poots hopes to unlock £70m aid

Agriculture minister Edwin Poots MLA believes there is a way round the issue of securing Stormont Executive approval to unlock the £340m sent across from Westminster to help Northern Ireland address the fast escalating cost of living crisis.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 14th May 2022, 7:12 am

Speaking at Balmoral Show he indicated that finance minister Conor Murphy has the authority to release the equivalent amount of money from funding sources already available to him within his own department.

Poots added:“It would then be a case of drawing the Westminster money back into Department of Finance reserves once a new Executive is formed.”

However, the recently elected MLA for South Belfast made it very clear that a new Executive would not be formed at Stormont until such times as the issues relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol have been resolved.

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But he continues to insist that £70m of the Westminster support package can be made to the farming sector.

Looking to the future, the agriculture minister said that he wanted to put farming in Northern Ireland on a profitable and sustainable footing for the long term.

When asked why very little specific reference is made to the needs of young farmers within his recently published agricultural reform proposals, he said: “Young people will want to get involved in farming if they see there is a viable future within

the industry for them.

“This is why it is so important that the steps are taken in the first place to make agriculture in Northern Ireland a profitable proposition for everyone working within it.”

Poots also made to clear that he wants to see greater training and education-related opportunities for young people seeking to develop a career within the agricultural sectors.

He also recognised the very great pressures on farm incomes at the present time. Part of the solution here, in his opinion, is for retailers to deliver a better price back to primary producers.

The agriculture minister continued:“The supermarkets have made very large profits over the past couple of years. This was achieved on the back of a food supply chain, which is underpinned by the efforts of farmers.

“Retailers must recognise the needs of their farmer suppliers at the present time. And this means paying them prices that fully take account of the devastating impact created by rampant feed and fertiliser price inflation.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein has confirmed that farming will remain a key priority for the party during the period ahead.

However, the party has not yet decided if it will push for the agriculture ministry, when and if a new Stormont Executive is formed.

This was the clear message from Sinn Fein’s agriculture spokesperson in Northern Ireland, Declan McAleer. He was a visitor to Balmoral Show on Day 2 of this year’s event.

“Establishing a new Executive at Stormont is out number one priority,” McAleer confirmed.

“If this is achieved, it will allow the immediate payment of the £340m transferred from Westminster to Stormont to the Assembly election.

“This money was allocated in recognition of the swingeing increases in the cost of living that have impacted on everyone over recent weeks and months.

He continued:“Of this transfer, £70m had been earmarked for farming. This money is needed by farmers to allow them met the costs of fertiliser, which they need to sow right now.”

McAleer discounted the view that the money from Westminster could be unlocked without a full Stormont Executive being in situ.

He said:“The advice available to me at the present time clearly indicates that a full Executive must meet to allow the allocation of the Westminster monies.”