Sinn Féin, the Irish republican political party, made a significant appearance at this year’s Balmoral Show, with party members eager to demonstrate their commitment to farming. Sinn Féin’s agriculture spokesperson in Northern Ireland, Declan McAleer, expressed his concern for the future of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) at the event. According to McAleer, farmers are right to be worried as the existing single payment budget remains in place until the end of the current parliamentary cycle at Westminster, and beyond this, there is total uncertainty as to what is coming down the track.
McAleer stated that the single payment accounts for around 90% of the farm income generated in Northern Ireland on an annual basis, with the monies involved being in the region of £300m per annum. He added that these payments play a critical role in maintaining the fabric of the farming industry. Looking to the future, Sinn Féin wants farm policy structures in Northern Ireland to mirror those of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Sinn Féin hopes to restore the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) payments, which were previously worth up to £20m to the north’s rural economy on an annual basis. However, the scheme was ended by the former DUP agriculture minister Edwin Poots, which McAleer believes was the wrong decision to make. Prior to the winding up of the Stormont Executive, McAleer had tabled his own private members’ bill, the introduction of which would see the restoration of ANC payments. The principles enshrined within the draft legislation had been well received by many stakeholder groups, including the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).
McAleer stated that the draft bill can be quickly picked up on once Stormont re-convenes. Sinn Féin’s sole aim is to equalise farm support measures across the island of Ireland, he said. Farmers south of the border have direct access to CAP, which gives them a strong degree of certainty. In the north, however, the current support measures are funded on the back of annual budgetary agreements, which does not represent a sustainable way forward for the farming industry.
McAleer concluded that the need to have the Stormont institutions re-instated is paramount. Only in this way can politicians in the north make the case for a strong and vibrant agriculture in an effective manner. Sinn Féin is committed to ensuring that farming in Northern Ireland remains sustainable and prosperous in the future.