£25 million agriculture and horticulture fund must be allocated fairly – McAleer
Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer has said there must be a fair allocation of the £25 million agriculture and horticulture fund and it must go to the sectors that need it most.
The Chair of the Assembly’s Agriculture Committee convened meeting of the AERA committee on Friday, which was addressed by Minister Edwin Poots and Norman Fulton, Deputy Secretary and head of Food and Farming in DAERA.
Declan McAleer said:
“The announcement last week by Finance Minister Conor Murphy of £25 million to support agriculture and horticulture has been warmly greeted by the sector. This has now placed an onus on the DAERA Minister to develop a scheme that will support the industry, where it is needed most at this time.
“At the meeting on Friday, I stressed the importance of looking at all of the sectors and also highlighted that some sectors such as beef and sheep, which represent 80% of all farms in the north, have average annual incomes below £12,000 and would gain very little benefit from existing COVID schemes such as the Self Employed Income Support Scheme.
“This income base will have plummeted even further since the COVID crisis, with various reports indicating a total supply chain loss for sheep of over £30/head and a beef loss of £240/head due to the lockdown.
“I added that a situation must be avoided whereby some sectors can access maximum support from at least two COVID schemes and other sectors cannot access any.
“Minister Poots acknowledged that he was conscious of the issue of double funding and whilst no decision has yet been reached on how to allocate the £25m fund he was keen to listen to the views of stakeholders, including those of the committee before making any decision.
“The Minister added that it would take a couple of weeks to ‘move on this’ but hoped to have the funds in bank accounts during the summer months.
“The agri-food and horticulture sectors have taken a severe hit during the COVID lockdown and this will be very difficult to recover from.
"The AERA committee will also be listening to sectoral opinion to inform our views on this scheme and while this £25m fund will not solve all of the issues, it is very welcome but must be directed to where it is needed most and allocated in accordance with the department’s equality duties.”