Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann MLA has claimed that the ongoing political stalemate at Stormont is hampering the response needed to tackle the blight of TB across Northern Ireland.
Mr Swann highlighted that in November 2017 the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) had launched a public consultation on a range of proposals to work towards the eradication of bovine TB however little progress had been made largely due to the collapse of Stormont.
Mr Swann explained: “It (the consultation) was a welcome step, and whilst I wasn’t in favour of all the proposals – such as the idea to pass much of the cost of annual testing onto farmers - at least it got the ball rolling and it looked at long last that some proactive discussions and actions were going to take place.
“Only six weeks later however the Assembly and Executive collapsed, and whilst the consultation still progressed as normal there has been no movement on it since.
“I recently wrote to the Department asking for an update and whilst the Chief Veterinary Officer’s response was positive in that he told me an impressive 200 responses had been received, it was clear from his comments that there would be absolutely no movement on it until either the Executive was restored, or until a new Direct Rule Minister was put in place.
“Whilst Robert Huey did tell me that the Department would be publishing a summary of the consultation responses on the DAERA website in July, he went on to state that “it is important to note that final decisions as a result of this consultation will be made by Ministers and take into account budget availability. Officials are currently drafting advice on a way forward based on the proposals and consultation responses, for a Minister to consider once in post”.
“I have said several times over that last 18 months that the political stalemate at Stormont had the potential to cause long-term damage to the local agriculture sector. The inability to move forward with any new TB eradication measures is a clear example of how the political brinkmanship still going on at Stormont is now getting in the way of the day to day lives of local farmers.
“For the last 18 months now our agriculture industry has been rudderless, just at a time when it most needed real leadership and direction.
“Of course it’s not just tackling TB which has been put on hold, but a host of other urgent industry priorities. As the rest of the UK regions push ahead with their Brexit preparations, Northern Ireland is still in limbo land. Our farmers have no better idea now how they will be supported post-Brexit than they had a year ago and given March 2019 is rapidly approaching that’s simply unforgivable.”
He added: “Other issues such as appeals, trade, live exports and FBIS are all still being effectively ignored when in reality they need urgent Ministerial intervention.”