The future of McIlveen hangs in the balance

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I thought farm minister Michelle McIlveen gave an excellent speech to this week’s Ulster Arable Conference.

It was balanced, insightful and reflected the needs of not just tillage farmers but of the entire agri sector. So it’s a pity that she won’t be around if things go ‘badly awry’ at Stormont over the coming days.

The coming Brexit discussions will be of paramount importance for farming and food in Northern Ireland. No industry has more to lose than farming if the final Brexit deal isn’t what it should be. And we need local politicians fighting the corner for our farmers in order to ensure the doomsday scenario does not become reality.

If we end up with a return to direct rule, then our civil servants, essentially, take over the running of the show. Direct Rule ministers will take whatever recommendations they get from DAERA officials. No doubt, it will all be very civilised. But neither the imported ministers nor the home grown civil servants have any real ‘skin in the game’ when it comes to getting a deal that has true meaning at farm level.

In contrast, our politicians have a different set of priorities when it comes to being active players in the Brexit game.

They know their reputations – and future election prospects – are on the line if they don’t perform. They will also have the flexibility and common sense to realise when they are getting a good deal or if they are merely being sold a ‘pig in a poke’: all of which brings me back to Michelle McIlveen.

She has spent the last number of months getting to know the agri/food sector and the people working within it extremely well. There is no doubt that the lady in question has a genuine interest in our industry. Her approach to the Brexit issue, up to this point, has been extremely refreshing. And it would be a genuine tragedy if she was not given the opportunity to represent farming and food at what could be its time of greatest need!