The family farm: ‘On the eve of destruction’- Farm Groups lobby for prosperity in Northern Ireland

In the period leading up to May’s election, farm groups are asking all parties and independents to add legislation on farm gate prices to their manifesto; this would require a minimum return of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked across the staples for Northern Ireland farmers, giving a huge welfare saving of more than £280million and more than 20,000 new jobs and prosperity across the province in towns, cities and countryside. If in receipt of a proper return for their produce, farmers buy goods and services from – on average -123 different suppliers on an on-going basis, including 5-10 tonnes of steel per annum, which would make a huge difference to the UK steel industry.

NI Farm Groups have established that this is a devolved matter and further investigations have indicated that it is legal all the way to Brussels and to go to the polls with these proposals would surely be a vote winner for any party or independent, not to mention the prosperity that would follow for Northern Ireland.

FFA and NIAPA started to meet all the political parties and Independents in the wake of the Gosling Report, which makes the case for legislation on farm gate prices by Stormont as soon as possible. In it, Paul Gosling clearly states the prosperity, jobs and welfare savings that legislation on farm gate prices would create for Northern Ireland. The full report, ‘On the eve of destruction’, may be read here.

WT2 TUV meeting(Pictured l-r Michael Clark, chairman NIAPA, Sean McAuley, FFA Steering Committee, Jim Allister MLA & William Taylor, FFA UK NI co-ordinator).

At the first meeting with MLA Jim Allister (Traditional Unionist Voice, TUV), the farm groups put forward their proposals and William Taylor, FFA UK NI co-ordinator, commented: ‘The TUV leader proved to be well informed about just how bad things are down on the farm and is considering his parties support for this proposal very seriously indeed’.

wt declan mcaleer sinnfeinFarmers For Action and Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association met a Sinn Fein delegation, including MLA Declan McAleer (left) at Stormont. Sinn Fein, including Minister O’Neill, have been good listeners on this issue for the last two years as it has evolved. They have asked plenty of questions, all of which, to date, have been answered. It would appear from their interest that they are very supportive of the idea, providing they can convince their members that it would work.

No other solutions available

wt william irwin

Northern Ireland Farm Groups, Farmers For Action and Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NIAPA) representatives met William Irwin MLA and Chair of the Agriculture Committee at Stormont (above) on the issue of Democratic Unionist Party support for legislation on farm gate prices across the staples to be put in place after the election.

William Taylor stated, “William Irwin is a farmer himself, with his son at the coal face and doesn’t need told just how bad things are down on Northern Ireland farms and furthermore, that NI’s young farmers and their families are not going to wear the current situation much longer before changing profession!” By the end of the meeting the conclusion was that there were currently no other solutions available and that the DUP would continue to consider the legislation proposal by the Northern Ireland Farm Groups.

Representatives of Northern Ireland Farm Groups met Harry Cullen, Chair of Northern Ireland Conservative Party and Roger Lomas West Tyrone Conservative representative.

William Taylor said “the meeting was an excellent opportunity to hear the official Conservative position on Northern Ireland including their free vote on Brexit decision by PM David Cameron. Roger Lomas had attended the Northern Ireland Farm Groups packed farm gate price crisis meeting in Cookstown last Autumn alongside many other politicians and was an excellent contributor – no stranger to the proposal for legislation on farm gate prices blue print”.

As he said: “Consumers have protection from supermarkets, why shouldn’t farming families have the same protection from the supermarkets?”

wt conservativesAnimated group: Roger Lomas, NI Conservatives West Tryone, Sean McAuley and William Taylor Farmers For Action and Harry Cullen, Chair of NI Conservative Party.

“Harry Cullen proved to be exceptionally well informed about Northern Ireland politics from a to z and didn’t need told about the consequences of allowing family farmers to continue leaving the industry and the need for legislation on farm gate prices proposal to be explored, nor was he under any illusions about the ability of farmers to make a country wealthy when they are receiving just reward for their labours.”

A fully briefed MP

WT ian paisley meetingThe NI farm Groups met MP Ian Paisley (Democratic Unionist Party) at his Ballymena office. Sean McAuley, FFA Steering Committee Member stated, “We found Mr Paisley fully briefed on the Gosling Report and the non-optional blue print for rural NI, put together by FFA and NIAPA . . . and very aware and deeply concerned about the current farm gate price crisis across the staples. Mr Paisley volunteered his input and help going forward and made it clear his door was open and his help was available, and insisted on being kept informed”.

Meeting representatives of the Social Democratic and Labour Party at Stormont

Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association and Farmers For Action NI met SDLP representatives in order to gather further support for legislation on farm gate prices in Northern Ireland. On arrival they had the opportunity to meet with the new SDLP leader Colum Eastwood initially along with Alex Attwood.   After they left the meeting to continue with Stormont business, the meeting continued with a very interested Sean Rogers.

wt sdlpPictured l-r: Fearghal McKinney, Deputy Leader of SDLP, Sean Fitzpatrick, NIAPA, William Taylor, FFA and Sean Rogers, SDLP Agriculture spokesperson.

William Taylor FFA co-ordinator concluded that the SDLP are taking the disastrous financial situation in rural Northern Ireland very seriously indeed. They spent a lot of time asking questions and getting to understand how legislation on farm gate prices in Northern Ireland would work across the staples to return a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked to family farmers for their produce. William Taylor and Sean Fitzpatrick are hopeful that SDLP will back the case for legislation on farm gate prices after the election and perhaps make the case for it in the run up to the election, citing the new jobs it would create, the welfare savings and the prospect of increasing prosperity in Northern Ireland.

Members of Northern Ireland Farm Groups met MLA Claire Sugden (Independent) based in Coleraine.

wt 2 claire sugdenClaire has to date been a good friend to NIAPA and FFA’s call for legislation on farm gate prices in Northern Ireland to return a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked. She attended our packed public farm gate price crisis meeting with many other politicians in Cookstown last November where she made her fellow MLA’s sit up and take notice by announcing that she was minded to put forward the proposal for legislation in Stormont after the election providing she gets the votes to return to Stormont. This latest meeting with Claire left the members of NI Farm Groups in no doubt of her commitment to this pledge, nor any doubts about her being a very well informed politician.

NIAPA and FFAUK (NI) met UKIP representatives to ask for their support in their manifesto for legislation on farm gate prices.

“As Europe and Northern Ireland farmers descend into poverty there is no good reason why Northern Ireland cannot be first to come up with the solution,” said Sean McAuley. Mr McAuley continued, “We got a good listening ear from UKIP and they asked all the right questions and gave us the impression that legislation on farm gate prices could be on their manifesto especially with its potential for thousands of jobs, welfare savings of close to £300million and prosperity that will follow for Northern Ireland.”

Northern Ireland Farm Groups held a meeting with the Alliance Party’s Agricultural representative Kieran McCarthy.

wt cllr tim morrowKieran is retiring in May and brought along Councillor Tim Morrow whom Alliance hope will succeed him if elected. The Farm Groups were delighted with the interest taken in the legislation on farm gate prices proposal. Michael Clarke, NIAPA Chairman stated, “Tim Morrow is a farmer himself and witnesses every day the punishing financial environment that Northern Ireland farmers are currently trying to operate in.” He continued, “Councillor Morrow asked all the right questions as the project was new to him and was given the best answers available, leaving him plenty to think about and, we hope’ to consider the possibility of putting it in Alliance’s manifesto, backing the push for legislation immediately after the election.”

Vernon Coaker, the Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary of State, meets NI Farm Groups in Belfast.

wt vernon coakerSean McAuley, FFA Steering Committee stated that Mr Coaker showed great interest in both the Gosling Report and the Non-optional blueprint for rural Northern Ireland and therefore the pluses of legislation on farm gate prices for Northern Ireland. Mr Coaker was aware that Jeremy Corbyn has a keen interest in things rural. The Farm Groups painted the picture for Mr Coaker, of how all family farmers across GB as well as Northern Ireland have the potential to return prosperity to the UK should they be receipt of a proper return for their produce, as when farmers have money they purchase goods and services from many suppliers and prosperity ripples outwards.

The meeting concluded, therefore, by demonstrating that Northern Ireland had nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting in place legislation on farmgate prices after the election, in the hope that it could be a shining example of prosperity across Northern Ireland’s towns, cities and countryside alike, then hopefully to be followed by Scotland, Wales, England and Southern Ireland.

*

Approximately 18 months ago Farmers For Action (FFA) and Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NIAPA) met a representative of each of the four main churches in Northern Ireland, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, and the Samaritans which proved ‘enlightening’. The farm groups have now decided to invite all Christian denominations directly to a summit meeting to see if they can persuade them to encourage parishioners to vote for the party/parties or independents in their area who will pledge to introduce legislation on farm gate prices immediately after the election.

Contact NI Farm Groups: William Taylor (FFA UK NI co-ordinator), 56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, BT51 4NU, Tel. 028 703 43419 / 07909744624 Email taylor.w@btconnect.com

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