Northern Ireland Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill has kept to her word and delivered a CAP deal for Northern Ireland that is fair and equitable for everyone.
The two region model was never going to be a runner as DARD officials had, from the every outset, pointed to the benefits of a simplified system that would keep the bureaucrats in Brussels off our backs. The prospect of EU Commission storm troopers coming to Northern Ireland and, potentially, finding disallowance issues pertaining to an over complicated CAP arrangement was a vision which the Farm Minister – and indeed the whole Stormont Executive – could not entertain, particularly in the wake of the recent field mapping debacle and the multi-million pound repayment made to Brussels.
However, the seven-year transition period, agreed within the new measures, should give every farmer in Northern Ireland sufficient time to adapt to the CAP arrangements. Every producer that I have spoken to over the past number of days has expressed relief that a fair degree of common sense has been shown by our politicians and, more importantly, that Michelle O’Neill has managed to agree a package of CAP and related agri-food support measures, which gives our entire industry an opportunity to fully grasp all off the opportunities for growth that, undoubtedly, lie ahead.
The detail announced by the Minister also confirms that she has been working in these matters intensively for quite some time. And, I have no doubt that the same also goes for her Executive colleague Arlene Foster. The last months have been marked by an ongoing CAP debate within the North’s farming sectors which, at times, threatened to boil over. In truth, the last thing the industry needed was a CAP deal that set farmer against farmer. Thankfully, all of this has been averted.
Michelle O’Neill must be congratulated for the commitment and vision that she has shown over recent weeks. But, in truth, her job is only half done. She must now ensure that the monies coming into agriculture by way of the Going for Growth support fund and the new rural development monies will allow our farming and food sectors to actually achieve their envisaged development targets. If all of this becomes reality, it is a good news story not just for farming and food but for the economy as a whole. As part of this development process, it is also incumbent on the Minister to secure new marker outlets for the food sector.