Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has said that the lack of an Agriculture Minister and an Executive is having a serious negative impact on the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland.
His comments come after it emerged that compensation cannot be given to the victims of the heavy flooding in the North West last summer.
Mr Nicholson noted there are currently eight policy decisions within the Department awaiting Ministerial sign-off.
The MEP said: “The fact that the compensation, which is sorely needed by many farm businesses affected by the devastating effects of the flooding last August in North West, cannot be released is just one example of how the lack of a functioning Executive is hurting the sector locally. Without Ministerial sign off, many farmers and their businesses are suffering due to the lengthy political limbo Northern Ireland is in.
“The Department has made efforts to mitigate the flooding problems, including seeking and receiving permission from the European Commission to increase the advance CAP payments from 50% to 70% to help alleviate cash flow problems. Additionally, DAERA has provided workshops in affected areas dealing with flood recovery, land restoration and farm management issues. However, this should realistically only be complimentary to compensation, and certainly are not the sole resolutions to the hardship many have faced.
“I have been in regular contact with the Department, most recently at the beginning of the year regarding this issue, and it has explored a number of different options, such as the EU Weather Aid and the development of a Farm Recovery scheme to be included under the Rural Development Programme. However, DAERA analysis estimates that only very few farm businesses would be able to qualify for these mechanisms,” he added.
“This more than anything highlights the real need for a Minister to explore and develop different options quickly in order to get much needed compensation to those farms that need it. You just have to look over the border to Co Donegal, where many farm businesses that were likewise damaged and compensation is now beginning to be released to those affected. Through the Republic’s Flood Compensation Scheme to date (11/1/17) 168 farmers have been paid €356,286, whilst farm businesses in Northern Ireland have been afforded no financial compensation.
“This is a very worrying situation and figures that I have received from the Department further demonstrate the problem. The two largest parties in Northern Ireland need to realise that being left in political limbo is damaging not only agriculture, but the many other areas in Northern Ireland,” Mr Nicholson concluded.