Sinn Féin will not support climate change legislation in Northern Ireland that could have a detrimental impact on the agriculture sector.

This was the clear message communicated by Sinn Féin MLA and Stormont’s Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ (AERA) committee chairman, Declan McAleer, after a series of recent farm visits.

"Climate change is a global issue that we all must play a part in addressing," McAleer said.

"Farmers are at the front line of climate change and bear the brunt of extreme events such as the landslides that devastated parts of the Sperrins in 2017.

"It would also be damaging for our international reputation if we are the only corner of Europe without climate change laws," the West Tyrone MLA added.

"Climate change legislation was a New Decade, New Approach commitment, but despite this, the minister refused to progress legislation - only doing so four months after the Private Members Bill was introduced.  

"This has created an unprecedented situation whereby the AERA committee has been scrutinising two climate bills over the past eight months."

McAleer confirmed that the AERA committee workload to date has included 52 evidence gathering sessions.

“We listened to the views of stakeholders from farming and environmental organisations, academics, climate change experts, schools, youth groups, business groups, councils, and the Scottish Just Transition Commission," he said.

"We also facilitated a public consultation which attracted over 2000 responses."  

According to McAleer, Sinn Féin secured AERA committee agreement for an amendment to legislate for an Agriculture Transition fund to support farm businesses in this process.

"We want the transition to a carbon neutral society to be as smooth and manageable as possible," McAleer continued.

"Under the draft legislation, the five-year climate action plans can only be agreed after a 16-week public consultation, and rigorous rural needs, equality, economic and small business impact assessments before being agreed by the Assembly.

"Sinn Féin is committed to fair and effective climate legislation based on the principles of just transition.

"We would never support legislation that would damage the agri-food sector," he concluded.