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Minister: EU's £5.1m not enough for farmers

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 13/10/2015

Sinn Fein MLA Michelle O'Neill
Sinn Fein MLA Michelle O'Neill

A multi-million-pound European cash injection is not enough to help Northern Ireland's beleaguered dairy farmers, the Agriculture Minister has claimed.

Michelle O'Neill said that while she welcomed a £5.1 million aid package, more must be done to help the struggling sector.

The Sinn Fein minister told MLAs: "A bit of cash-flow into the system will help, but until they review the intervention price we will be having this conversation next year and the year after, and perhaps the year after that, because of the volatility in the markets."

Ms O'Neill was responding to concerns raised during Question Time at the Assembly.

Dairy farmers say they are facing their worst crisis in decades due to falling prices. They have staged protests at supermarkets, with convoys of tractors, while individuals removed milk.

The milk price was 34% lower in July than in 2014 and 39% below prices for the previous year.

Ms O'Neill said her department could not match the European funding allocation but vowed to continue pushing for prioritisation of Ulster farmers.

"There is no flexibility within DARD's (Department of Agriculture and Rural Development) budget to provide any additional match funding," she said.

She is hopeful payments could be made by December.

"What we need to do is make sure that we continue to drive home the message that we need this money paid out as quickly as possible, and that's certainly my job of work over the next few weeks," Ms O'Neill added.

TUV leader Jim Allister described the aid package as a "drop in the ocean".

SDLP MLA Joe Byrne said it was less than satisfactory.

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