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ARD FHEIS 2014: Sinn Féin defends rural Ireland - Michelle O'Neill

8 February, 2014 - by Michelle O'Neill

Opening the debate on defending rural Ireland, the North's Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said:

"I am delighted to be opening the rural Ireland section of the Ard Fheis.

As a grass roots party many of us live in and experience the pleasures of rural living alongside recognising the many challenges faced by rural dwellers and I think that is evidenced in the motions that we have been debating today.

We often refer to agriculture and rural Ireland as being the backbone of our country and in these times of austerity policies by Europe, by Fine Gael and Labour and the British Tories, this has never been truer.

It is the agri-food sector that has continued to grow through the world-wide recession and it is also this sector that offers the greatest hope for leading Ireland to recovery and creating jobs.

That is why in my role I have been driving the creation of an agri-food strategy in the north called 'Going for Growth'. This strategy has the potential to create 15,000 new jobs and lever in 1.4 billion of private sector investment by increasing our agricultural output by 60%.

 I'm committed to living up to my commitments that I have made to the industry and I have the opportunity to do that with CAP reform.

I have met recent challenges from the DUP to transferring funding for this strategy.  These challenges may come disguised in many ways, however we recognise them for what they are.  There's a saying that's appropriate in this situation -  don't cut off your nose to spite your face!

So we are were we are, and I am now seeking the wider northern Executive's support for funding for the opportunities that are before us for the agri-food sector.

One of the major issues facing the farming community is CAP reform, I have spent the last number of years dealing with and negotiating the deal in Europe.

Sinn Féin wants to see a well funded, flexible and most importantly fair CAP reform.

The current CAP reform decisions, that are in front of us, will be the clearest demonstration yet of the difference between Sinn Féin and the conservatives forces on this island namely the establishment parties and political unionism in the north.

As we seek to protect rural Ireland and keep small family farms in business, they seek to solely maintain the interests of big farming interests as opposed to farmers as a whole.

Sinn Féin wants to see growth for all sectors of agriculture not just for some, therefore moving to a flat rate of payments sooner rather than later is both correct and badly needed. Basing your system on arrangements from 2002 is beyond justification and must end soon.

In addition there have been some proposals in the north of Ireland of separating out the severely disadvantaged areas of the countryside from the rest and paying a lesser rate in those disadvantaged areas, in other words further partitioning the North.

I have to say I can see no logic in that argument, other than maintaining the sectional interests of large farmers in the lowlands and as I repeatedly said I represent the interests of all farmers not just a few.

Sinn Féin have made a difference, real differences to the lives of rural dwellers...

Through our Rural Development Programme in the six counties we have invested £500 million in rural communities, we have tackled issues such as lack of rural services, investing in rural broadband to tackle the not spots, tackling rural poverty investing £26 million giving isolated homes access to water for the first time, and addressing fuel poverty through insulating rural homes and addressing issues such lack of rural transport and rural childcare.

Throughout the 32 counties Sinn Féin defends rural Ireland, Sinn Féin defends small family farms, Sinn Fein defends our wider rural communities, Sinn Fein defends the environment and Sinn Fein defends Ireland's interests in Europe.

I look forward to the debates on these motions before you."

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