The Ulster Farmers’ Union says it election hustings, held at its Executive meeting in Cookstown last night (30 March), was an opportunity for the parties to make clear in advance of the May election how they would respond to the UFU’s manifesto for the new Assembly.
UFU president, Ian Marshall, said the event produced a spirited debate between the politicians and with the farmers in the audience.
“Politicians always say they see agriculture as a cross-party issue and as a vital part of the local economy. This was their opportunity to let farmers judge how committed they are to tackling the problems in agriculture and to helping shape its future,” said Mr Marshall.
The meeting took the form of a brief statement from each party, followed by an intensive question and answer session.
“There was cut and thrust in the debate, but all parties present underlined their commitment to farming. They also demonstrated a sound understanding of the issues we have highlighted in our manifesto and through our day-to-day work highlighting the concerns of 12,000 plus farming families and others that live in rural areas,” said Mr Marshall. The Union’s Executive were, however, disappointed that not all of the parties invited participated in this important event.
The UFU says that apart from the economic issues now putting such a big strain on farm businesses there will be key issues to be tackled after the election.
“The creation of a new department, DAERA, combining agriculture with the environment is a huge change for an industry which has always had its own Minister since the implementation of devolution. Who takes responsibility for that department, and which party takes the chair of the committee, will be big issues for us in ensuring this ends up a smooth amalgamation – and one that delivers red tape reductions for farmers.
“It is vital that DAERA and the new Assembly fully recognise that despite the extremely difficult financial conditions presently being experienced by the Northern Ireland farming community, the agri-food industry is a major part of the wider Northern Ireland economy. It continues to grow and its longer-term prospects are good,” said Mr Marshall.
“The new Executive must provide the relevant, timely and necessary assistance needed so that collectively we can deliver for the Northern Ireland economy and society.”