Tales From The Fields: Storm disaster fund mooted by minister

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It was reported this week in September 1970 that a storm disaster fund could be set up in Northern Ireland.

The idea emerged during talks between the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Phelim O’Neill, and an Ulster Farmers’ Union deputation led by Mr W Hamill, president of the UFU.

At the talks - called to discuss compensation for farmers who had suffered serious losses of crops and livestock through recent storms - Mr O’Neill, while expressing sympathy with the farmers’ case, reiterated the view that, in accordance with precedent, no government compensation could be made available.

However he undertook to give the “most urgent and sympathetic consideration” to farm improvement schemes necessitated by recent flood damage.

The union delegation strongly pressed the case for compensation particularly because of the impossibility of getting insurance cover.

Deputy general secretary, Mr J B Smyth said: “We emphasised to the minister that the farmer simply could not get cover for storm damage to crops, livestock and machinery etc, which were out in the open while buildings and their contents only attracted cover if considered ‘suitable risks’.”

Referring to the disaster fund idea, Mr Smyth said that he felt the minister was “genuinely interested” if the farmers were to iniatiate such a move.

In principle such a fund would be financed by deductions from farmers’ returns and there many obivious difficulties, Mr Smyth added.

Individual permission would be necessary before any deduction could be made from a farmers’ cheque while some areas were far more subject to flooding than others. However, the union would discuss the proposal at an early meeting.

Turning to the minister’s promise of urgent consideration for improvement schemes necessitated by flood damage, Mr Smyth said he presumed that this referred to work which had been carried out recently with grant aid, for example fencing, and which had been destroyed by the storms.

“Normally this would not attract government assistance so soon again,” pointed out Mr Smyth.