O’Neill needs to step up to the mark: Dodds

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DUP MEP Diane Dodds has given her view on the upcoming EU Agriculture Minister Council meeting on March 14 and highlighted the failing of the DARD Minister to address the outstanding basic payments yet to be paid to frustrated and hard pressed farmers.

Mrs Dodds explained that farmers are facing extremely difficult times financially with managing cash flow a key issue which is getting even harder as these prolonged low prices continue to bite.

Mrs Dodds said: “While I recognise that this is in the main a result of a global fall in commodity prices, there are steps that Government must continue to take, and even think outside the box to deliver, for those people suffering at this time. Next week I will take my opportunity to present to the EU Agriculture, Phil Hogan, my views on the crisis facing the industry and I will be making the case that we need a new and radical approach from the Commission to support and protect our farmers.

“Last week, our Prime Minister paid a fleeting visit to Northern Ireland and told us ‘safety, security and prosperity’ for farmers comes with membership of the EU. For farmers right across Northern Ireland, but particularly those in the dairy and pork sectors, they will be asking what safety, security and certainly what prosperity is the EU offering today?

“Indeed, the reality is that the same EU is turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to the crisis consuming farm families today.”

Turning to what she described as DARD’s ‘growing incompetence’ in dealing with outstanding direct payments, Mrs Dodds said she was ‘disappointed and totally bewildered’ in the response shown by the DARD Minister to help those currently awaiting their basic payment.

She continued: “While the Minister and her Department have reached their December milestone and appear to wish to bask in the glory of doing so, those still outstanding are in a real state of limbo which is just unacceptable.

“The level of frustration on the ground is palpable and it is not just at the lack of payment. The complete vacuum of information on when payment is likely or even more frustrating when an assessment will be completed is angering farmers and those of us working hard to deliver this much needed boost to farm incomes.

“There are numerous areas where the Department are failing to deliver, in particular making final assessments on active farmer, young farmers and regional reserve status. It is now ten months after the submission date for the 2015 SAF and three months since the payment window for BPS has opened and still people don’t know what and if they will get paid.

“If the DARD Minister wants to make a real difference on the ground let’s focus and deliver what is primarily in her gift instead of focusing on industry stakeholder meetings and electioneering.”

Mrs Dodds added: “Real people are being affected by the issues I have outlined and for this to continue is completely unacceptable.”