Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Michelle O'Neill and Simon Hamilton's agriculture feud only harms our farmers

Agriculture minister Michelle O'Neill
Agriculture minister Michelle O'Neill

Many people will have been bemused by the recent court case between two Executive ministers, Michelle O'Neill and Simon Hamilton, over how much funding from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will be given directly to farmers and how much will be spent on rural development.

It is worrying that they could not resolve this issue within the confines of the Executive, rather than show a complete lack of joined-up government. This is not the image of a stable Executive that we are trying to show to the outside world.

However, I am more concerned with the fact that many worthwhile environmental and rural development projects will not receive any European funding as a result of this court case.

Some environmental groups have even warned that this could result in certain farmland species disappearing from Northern Ireland.

The Agriculture Minister, Michelle O'Neill, had proposed that 7% of CAP funding would be transferred to a pot for rural development, in spite of rules allowing for up to 15% to be moved.

England, Scotland and Wales all transfer between 9.5% and 15% of their budgets, so by UK standards, the minister was actually looking to transfer a below-average amount.

If there was anything to complain about, it should have been that not enough money was going to be spent on these projects.

The deadline for the transfer of money has now passed, which means that funding for these projects will have to come from the Executive and other sources. I hope that the Agriculture Minister will work hard to ensure that these projects receive the money that they deserve.

The DUP, which backed the legal action, have acted in the interests of big farmers instead of rural communities and small farms. It was more to do with electioneering than Executive procedure.

Rural communities and the environment will lose out as a result of this fight between Executive ministers.

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