Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer and West Tyrone MP Orfhlaith Begley have held a meeting with the independent panel which is heading up the review into domestic farm support funding.
Following the meeting, which took place at Dundonald House, Mr McAleer said they ‘made a very strong case’ that there should be no reduction in future funding due to the ‘exceptional and unique circumstances’ of farming in Northern Ireland.
Mr McAleer said: “We made the point that we share a land border with the south, which is another EU member state, and are separated by the sea from the rest of the EU, which is our main market. The agri industry relies on all-island trade flows and the cross border trade last year was valued at 1.3 billion.
“In fact, the importance of cross border trade in agriculture was recognized by our late leader Martin McGuinness when he and Arlene Foster wrote a letter in August 2016 to Teresa May from OFMDFM highlighting agriculture as a key area of north-south co-operation in the GFA and citing the ‘unique circumstances’ of having a border with the south.
“In terms of trade distortion, we stated our view that the Irish government invests in their farmers at a higher level than the British, who actually negotiated a cut to their RDP at the last CAP negotiations, while the Irish, French and others negotiated an increase.
“The impact of this is that farmers in the south are better supported through a range of schemes such as TAMS, GLAS, BEEP, BDGP, Sheep Welfare Scheme, ANC/LFA and their average incomes are higher. To highlight the challenges for farmers in the north, we pointed out that the ANC payment ended this year while in the south it rose to 250 million in 2018 and is expected to increase to 300 million next year.
“This creates an already uneven playing field which would be made worse by any diminution of farm support funding and that is not even taking into account the nightmare scenario of a possible hard border with crippling tariffs and cut off from the EU market in a no deal Brexit situation.”
Mr McAleer explained that they also highlighted the social and economic impact on rural communities of reducing farm support, adding that it would be ‘particularly devastating’ in Northern Ireland compared to England where only 17% of people live in rural areas compared to 37% of Northern Ireland’s population.
He continued: “We added that over 80% of farmer’s income is Single Farm Payment and this goes straight into the rural economy so any reduction to this would put farmers out of business and have a hugely negative impact on rural communities and services.
“The intention of the review panel is to produce a report within the current session of the British Parliament and our face-to-face meeting with the team follows on from a written submission we made to the panel last month. The issue of future funding support is huge for farmers and rural communities and is in addition to the chaos and uncertainty of Brexit.”
He added: “Despite the uncertainty, Sinn Féin will continue to fight the case for our farmers and rural communities and ensure that their voices and needs are heard at every possible level of government.”