Michelle O'Neill: Northern Ireland needs its own referendum on EU
Minister's plea over threat to farming
Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill has called for Northern Ireland to have its own separate referendum on EU membership.
Prime Minister David Cameron wants to renegotiate the terms of the UK's membership of the EU and to put the results to a referendum by the end of 2017.
But Ms O'Neill said: "This is too big an issue to be decided at a UK level.
"Our agriculture and food sectors are highly dependent on support from Brussels. And for this reason alone, farmers must have their say on this crucially important issue."
The minister was the keynote speaker at the Department of Agriculture breakfast, a highlight of day two at Balmoral. Ms O'Neill also indicated that she would favour a 'yes' vote, if a referendum on EU membership were to be held.
"The farming sectors would be the big losers if we were to withdraw from the European Union," she said. "Another important factor to be considered in this regard is our land border with the Republic."
Ms O'Neill said that the farming and food sectors remain on target to secure significant growth.
"All of this will be export-focused. My department officials are working hard to secure new markets in South East Asia and the Middle East. Recent visits by Chinese veterinary officials give hope that pork exports from the North to China will become a reality over the coming months."
The minister also confirmed that significant efforts were being made to open markets in the US for local beef and lamb.
"This is work in progress, she said. "We continue to make great strides in securing entry into new markets but maintaining that access is also vitally important.
"Our ability to trade must be supported by all links in the supply and marketing chain. As part of this process, my department is also working to overcome barriers to trade associated with certification, labelling and animal health and welfare."