With the UK now on a collision course with the EU regarding the whole premise of the European project and, no doubt, a referendum to follow, the real question facing agriculture in Northern Ireland is: can we afford to say ‘cheerio’ to Brussels and the £millions of support funding that comes our way every year?
Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill is now calling for Northern Ireland to have its own referendum on this critically important issue, adding that she is in favour of the province staying within the EU family.
In principle, she is right in calling for this subject to be, at least, debated. But the legalities of one region within a state having its own ‘mini referendum’ on a matter of this nature are highly questionable.
However, it was appropriate for O’Neill to put the matter on the agenda, courtesy of her comments at this week’s Balmoral Show. No other MLA has yet raised the issue of Northern Ireland’s EU membership in a public forum.
For the record I believe that local agriculture must strive to make the EU work on its behalf for two reasons.
In the first instance the Single Payment makes the difference between farmers keeping their heads above water and making heavy losses nine years out of ten.
And secondly: how could local farming survive the presence of a closed land border with the Republic of Ireland, should the UK say no to Europe? Things are bad enough for cattle and sheep farmers, given the impact of the current EU labelling regulations.
These, can hopefully, be amended. But if we were outside the EU the prospect of any meaningful cross border trade in livestock and other agri products taking place would be totally remote. And that would be a bad day for farming in this part of the world.