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McHugh - Where is the political leadership in Agriculture Department?

9 November, 2003

Sinn Fein Agriculture Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone Assembly candidate Cllr Gerry McHugh has questioned the political leadership of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Cllr McHugh said:

"Everyone in the agricultural industry knows all too well that DARD work at a snail pace. They have NO direction and NO ambition. But whose fault is this? We have had five years of political dithering, NO hard decisions, just photo calls and empty promises.

"Last week the former permanent secretary of DARD Bill Hodges pointed out that dithering in the private sector would lead to bankruptcy. Both the former permanent secretary and the Minister should wake up and smell the roses, farmers are almost bankrupt. Last December I discovered that farmers owed over £500 million to banks alone. £88 per week is the average farm income. Yet DARD is not bankrupt with administration costs of over £4000 per farm. No adequate politician would allow this to continue.

"DARD got a £50 million uplift in the last budget. Farmers have not been prepared for the changes that are around the corner on CAP reform. There will be an enormous shift towards the protection of the environment; we have to ensure that the threshold is not set too high on cross compliance. A new expanded Europe to 25 members, and the likely renegotiation next year of the failed World Trade talks, which will put great pressure on our export refunds are all issues that must be addressed now.

"One of the most crucial decisions to made in the near future is the model to be used in calculating the decoupled payment. This must reflect the fairest distribution of money to all farmers.

"We have the best food in the world; it must be sold as such and on an all-Ireland basis. The beef export ban must be lifted immediately, this is an yet another example of DARD's total lack of will or interest in agriculture and farm incomes.

"DARD have become an agency that polices the agricultural industry, not a department to assist and nurture new economic activity. No politician should have allowed that to happen. Why has Brucellosis and Tuberculoses not been eradicated? Why after being promised by the North South Ministerial Council that we would have an all-island animal health strategy by December 2002 has this not been put in place? Why was the whole of the Rural Development Programme allowed to drift with little or no affect on farm families? Why have its delivery mechanisms not been made more accessible? It is time that there was political leadership on these vital questions because time for our rural communities and farming industry is running out."ENDS

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