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O'Neill says £26.5m aid plan for farmers is just a sticking plaster

By Linda Stewart and Chris McCullough

Published 16/09/2015

Michelle O'Neill said that she feared a support package for farmers would only provide a temporary solution
Michelle O'Neill said that she feared a support package for farmers would only provide a temporary solution

Agriculture minister Michelle O'Neill has warned Assembly members that an EU aid package for farmers will only be a "sticking plaster" if the intervention price remains the same.

And the Sinn Fein minister said she was disappointed London hadn't backed her calls for the European Commission to review intervention prices.

Ms O'Neill told MLAs on Stormont's agriculture committee that she welcomed the support package of €36.1 million (£26.5m) - but feared it was only a temporary solution.

And she said details remain sketchy of how the total EU aid package of €420 million (£308.5m) for the dairy and pigmeat sectors will be targeted.

"It is 12 years since intervention prices were set. There is no point in having a safety net which does not reflect market realities," she said.

The minister said she thought the European Commission was wrong not to embark on a review of intervention prices - a subsidy ​fixed by the EU to ​pay ​farmers ​market ​prices for produce.

Ms O'Neill said: "We will end up in this situation in a year's time or in two years' time. The Commission want to put a sticking plaster over it."

The minister said farmers are telling her that this is the worst crisis they have ever witnessed and the same mistakes are being made as in the crisis of 2008/9. "Never before has there been a situation where all the sectors are struggling at the one time," she said.

She said other member states are making the case for a review of intervention prices and she is disappointed that the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs in London (Defra) hasn't supported her call.

"They wouldn't support a review of intervention prices. It's an ideology position from the Tories," she said.

Ms O'Neill said she has written to Defra Secretary Liz Truss to find out how the UK's share will be divided up among the regions.

Ulster Farmers Union president Ian Marshall said the package will not solve the crisis facing agriculture and it falls far short of what is needed to help farm families through autumn and winter.

He said: "The package is largely meaningless in terms of addressing market volatility and the short term problems facing the industry.

"The UFU is also disappointed that intervention, even on a temporary basis wasn't mentioned, as it had the potential to put a realistic floor into the market. Discussions are ongoing with DARD as to how we best maximise the Northern Ireland share, and how this very limited pot of funds will be best allocated in Northern Ireland."

Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson said €36.1 million will have limited impact once it is divided between the UK's dairy farmers. He added: "I have written to the Defra Secretary of State calling for Northern Ireland to be prioritised as our dairy farmers have had to endure a much longer period of low and unprofitable prices than their GB counterparts."

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