Stormont implosion could intensify milk crisis, farmers warn
The collapse of Stormont could deliver another blow to Northern Ireland's crisis-hit dairy farmers, it has been warned.
Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) president Ian Marshall said the threat to the Assembly and Executive risked marginalising Northern Ireland.
He sounded the alarm ahead of a major demonstration planned for Stormont on Friday by the agri-food industry.
The UFU chief said farmers and producers needed to send "a clear message" to the European Commission ahead of a crunch meeting of EU agriculture ministers next Monday.
Mr Marshall added: "As a body, the UFU never has and will not engage directly in mainstream politics. However, over this issue the government at Westminster and the devolved administration here have very different views of what the industry needs.
"We are concerned that, in an era of UK devolution, we risk being marginalised in Westminster and Brussels if we do not have our own local political representation
"While we recognise that there are always going to be constraints on what a local administration can and is allowed to do, having locally accountable politicians and decision-makers who better understand our farming industry has helped us in the past over issues like the snow storm and fodder crises a few years ago."
Speaking about Friday's protest at Stormont, two days ahead of the Assembly's first full meeting following the nine-week summer recess, Mr Marshall added: "We do not want to be in a situation where the Farm Commissioner, Phil Hogan sees protests in Dublin, Paris or anywhere else, but not in Belfast, and uses that as a reason to ignore us."
Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill is joining forces with Northern Ireland's MEPs today to press the European Commission for help to prevent milk farmers going out of business.
Members of the Assembly's agriculture committee are also taking part in a meeting in Brussels with Commissioner Hogan, who has so far set his face against action to assist the industry.
Mr Hogan has repeated his position that the sector is "not in a state of crisis".
Ahead of today's meeting, Ms O'Neill said: "I have persistently called on Commissioner Phil Hogan to review the intervention price.
"I have been disappointed with his response to date."
Next Monday, a sizeable UFU delegation will take part in a major protest in Brussels that coincides with the European Commission meeting national farming ministers to discuss the crisis, which has been exacerbated by the weakness of the euro against sterling.