Michelle O'Neill's speech to Ard Fheis 2015 live section

7 March, 2015 - by Michelle O'Neill

Sinn Féin has demonstrated our commitment to rural Ireland by delivering real and meaningful change to our farmers and rural dwellers.

As a Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development I have grasped the economic potential by creating thousands of new jobs through the rural development programme. I intend to create even more jobs as we begin rolling out the new programme.

Sinn Féin is committed to addressing years of Government neglect of rural Ireland.

We have invested hundreds of millions into enhancing the provision of services and to strengthening the infrastructure across our rural communities.  Taking on issues such as rural broadband.

With my continued focus on tackling rural poverty and social isolation;  I have established initiatives including the assisting of elderly people with transport, providing running water where it was NEVER available, provision of rural childcare, THOUSANDS of farm family health checks, and fuel poverty interventions to name but a few.

I have launched a public consultation on my Rural Proofing Bill. This legislation will further enhance rural rights by compelling other government departments and public bodies to factor rural needs into their decision making. This is an initiative which Sinn Féin want to see introduced across the island.

The past year has been a challenging one for our farmers.  Many farmers are finding it difficult to make ends meet.  I know this at first hand as I have spent the last weeks engaging extensively in rural communities as part of our rural road shows. 

Myself and others from our team including Martina Anderson MEP have engaged with thousands of farmers and rural dwellers outlining our vision, plans and programmes to support the entire agri-food industry. I know some of those farming organisations are here today and they are very welcome.

It’s Sinn Féin’s firm view that our primary producers must obtain a fair and equitable return for their produce.  Without this fairness the future of the agri food industry is in jeopardy.

I will soon be launching a farm business improvement scheme worth a quarter of a Billion pounds which will allow us to further invest in the sustainability of the entire agriculture industry.

There are many challenges for the industry and I am concerned at the introduction of the nomadic beef specification which effectively discriminates against Southern born cattle which are processed in the North. As I told you last year delegates – can anyone here tell me the difference between a bullock from Tyrone or a bullock from Kerry. 

Sinn Féin will continue to see all barriers removed which impede on the free movement of trade across this island. 

It is a time of great change for the farming industry due to the new CAP. 

Sinn Féin have delivered a more equitable and fair allocation of single farm payments. The changes which I successfully negotiated, are testimony to how Sinn Féin seeks a mandate to make change; we have guaranteed a short transition towards flat rate payments, a move that will go towards tackling years of historic imbalance.

Another imbalance than Sinn Fein have tackled head on is the availability of Public sector jobs.  In a programme of decentralisation I am moving the Dept HQ up to 600 jobs to Co. Derry, alongside 60 forestry jobs to Fermanagh, 80 Rivers agency jobs to Tyrone and 65 fishery jobs to South Down. Plans are well progressed and we will deliver on these relocations. No other department has done this.

Sinn Féin will continue to make a real difference across the country as we implement our campaign to defend rural Ireland.

In the time ahead, we’ll fight for and deliver sustainability for our rural communities,

for our family farms and for the development of services across rural Ireland.