Ritchie in unity call

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Former SDLP leader and Minister for Social Development, Margaret Ritchie, has urged agriculture leaders to come together on a unified position on the future of agriculture post-Brexit.

The former MP and MLA for South Down, previously a prominent member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee at Westminster, convened a meeting of senior agriculture leaders, from across the whole sector, in Armagh on Thursday, to discuss how the industry can present a clear and unified message ahead of the next phase of Brexit negotiations in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive.

Irish Government Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed TD, also attended the event to listen to the concerns of the industry and outline the Irish Government’s position.

Although agriculture is already devolved to Northern Ireland, the UK Government has committed to devolving the expenditure associated with agricultural subsidy whilst guaranteeing current level to 2024. Potential differences in subsidy and trading arrangements that may arise as a result of Brexit risks disrupting the two key market frameworks for Northern Ireland - the rest of the UK and the Republic for Ireland. This could result in the industry in Northern Ireland being less competitive with its counterparts in the Republic of Ireland or the rest of the UK.

A number of meetings have already taken place between the Northern Ireland Civil Service and senior leaders to take forward ideas, but progress has been stalled by the lack of an Executive and devolved Ministers.

In light of the lack of progress, Margaret Ritchie has urged leaders to take their ideas straight to the UK Government, the Irish Government and the European Union Commission.

Speaking after the event in Armagh, Margaret Ritchie said: “The agriculture industry in Northern Ireland is the pillar of our economy, and it stands to be the most heavily impacted by Brexit due to the important ties with the markets and regulatory systems of both the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

“I was delighted to convene such a wide and influential group of interests from across the sector, and look forward to the conversation developing. One thing is clear - for Northern Ireland to have its voice heard in this crucial phase of Brexit negotiations, it needs to speak now with a clear vision for the future. Failure to do so will pose clear risks for the industry.”

Michael Creed TD, Irish Government Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine said Brexit poses significant challenges for the entirety of the agricultural sector across the island of Ireland. He said the event was an insightful and helpful conversation with the industry.