Anger over DUP/Sinn Fein impasse on farming blueprint
Sinn Fein and the DUP have been accused of using the agri-food industry as a new party political battlefield in their fall-out over the future of farming.
The attack came from Robin Swann, a member of the Stormont committee that monitors the Department of Agriculture, who said the row revealed in the Belfast Telegraph yesterday was an "absolute disgrace".
As the Balmoral Show prepares to come to a close today, the Ulster Unionist MLA said the two top Executive parties were using the agri-food industry as a "political football".
Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill has blamed the DUP for refusing to allow proposals that include a business investment scheme, to reach the agenda for an Executive meeting.
The Sinn Fein Minister said: "The DUP are clearly in blocking mode, as they have been in relation to the Education and Skills Authority, the Haass proposals and the Maze/Long Kesh situation."
But First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson signalled he is hopeful the row over the 'Going for Growth' agri-food strategy, which is aimed at creating 15,000 jobs by 2020, can be resolved.
Speaking at the DARD breakfast at Balmoral, Mr Robinson said he recognised that the Department has still not received funding for the Farm Business Improvement Scheme, but said this should not be at the expense of the financial support offered by Single Farm Payments.
"This scheme is very much interlinked with the decisions on how reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is implemented," he said. "There is no point in putting in place a scheme to help a farm business grow if we are cutting off its lifeline through the Single Farm Payment.
Mr Robinson also admitted the Executive parties have yet to negotiate on a compromise over how the CAP reform is to be implemented. "I am keen to do this at the earliest opportunity. Farmers deserve clarity and I want to see the Executive concluding on this and related issues quickly," he said.
But North Antrim MLA Mr Swann declared: "It is an absolute disgrace that Sinn Fein and the DUP have allowed the agriculture and agri-food industry, which is the backbone of the Northern Ireland economy, to be used as a party political football.
"All our parties should be working together to ensure that the cornerstone of our economy, the agri-food industry, does not become a cheap bargaining tool, or used to score points."
The Going for Growth blueprint for the agri-food industry has a target to create 15,000 jobs and was launched at the Balmoral Show a year ago today. Although Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill and Industry Minister Arlene Foster signed off on proposals last December, the issue has still not reached an Executive meeting for final decisions.