Opposition to focus on Agriculture, Rural Schools and Poverty

Tomorrow is an Opposition Day at Stormont with the UUP/SDLP parties deciding to focus on EU funding for the Agricultural Sector, Rural Schools and Poverty.

Here are the motions they are set to debate;

Motion: EU Funding for the Agricultural Sector

That this Assembly notes with concern the risks to multiple streams of funding posed by withdrawal from the European Union; further notes that over 70 per cent of all European funding to Northern Ireland falls under the Common Agricultural Policy and other rural funds, which provide approximately £350 million each year to farmers, representing 87 per cent of annual farm income; acknowledges that the agri-food sector accounts for 3.25 per cent of Northern Ireland’s Gross Value Added, which equates to £1.1 billion at basic prices and approximately 71,500 local jobs, and that existing strategies in these sectors, such as Going for Growth, make no provision for the withdrawal of European Union funding; and calls on the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to outline how she intends to uphold the First Minister’s commitment that farmers can be provided for as well as, if not better if Northern Ireland leaves the European Union, and to detail how she will develop a strategy to provide for and secure the long-term sustainability of the agricultural and agri-food sectors to ensure no loss of assistance to farmers arising from the withdrawal of existing European Union funding.

Mr P McGlone
Mr R McPhillips
Mr H McKee
Mr R Swann

Motion: Impact of Draft Strategic Area Plan on Rural Schools

That this Assembly, noting the failure of the attempt at area based planning for schools in the previous mandate, expresses its concern at the proposals contained in Providing Pathways the Draft Strategic Area Plan for School Provision 2017-2020; believes that schools in rural areas will be most at risk from the proposals; calls on the Minister of Education to detail what rural-proofing measures were undertaken during the development of the proposed Area Plan; and further calls on the Minister to introduce legislation for a statutory presumption against the closure of rural schools similar to the protections already in place in England and Scotland.

Mrs S Overend
Mr C McGrath
Mrs R Barton
Mr D McCrossan

Motion: Poverty and Deprivation

That this Assembly expresses its concern that according to the Department for Communities, around 376,000 or 21 per cent of people in Northern Ireland live in relative income poverty, before housing costs; notes that in June 2015 the High Court found that the Executive had breached a legal duty by failing to adopt an identifiable strategy setting out how it proposed to tackle poverty, social exclusion and patterns of deprivation based on objective need; further notes that the Programme for Government consultation document published in October 2016 refers to a new Social Strategy in relation to these matters; and calls on the Minister for Communities to publish an overarching strategy and long-term plan, including budget allocations, which outlines specific targets and timelines to reduce poverty and deprivation and tackle social exclusion and ensures the application of resources based on neutral criteria that measure deprivation, irrespective of community background or other affiliation.

Mr A Attwood
Mr A Allen
Ms N Mallon
Mr M Nesbitt

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

  • oval

    Nothing on the Programme for Government? Would have thought the opposition would have focused on that.

  • On the fence!

    This is an industry with a value of billions, more man hours being put in to it than anything else, supplying one of lifes most crucial commodities (food!), has received massive amounts of investment over the years in the form of training and capital grants, yet 87% of income generated has to be in the form of a handout!

    Something badly, badly, wrong somewhere.

    I wonder if they’ll make a start at finding out what exactly today?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Too many villages have separate primary schools, this is a waste of resources, merge them and utilise the money elsewhere, simples.

    As for farmers, the problem I’m sure is complex but there is only so much hand-holding the government can do.

    The golden age of farming is gone, farmers have to either diversify e.g. like these chaps http://hillstownfarmshop.com/ or sell up to more efficient agri-corps.

    When I lived in Australia I noticed how many farms had alternative side businesses.

    A farmer in Victoria told me that anyone with 500acres or less had to have another side business or a part time job.

    I know the farming mindset very well (believe it or not) and aside from all the commendable attributes of rural character there is nonetheless a tremendous resistance to change and reluctance to listen to unpalatable truths.

    I’ve been suggesting farm breweries, free range hogs, biodigesters, cottage rental et all till I’m blue in the face always to be met with that scowl of “ach! they’re just fads” whereas from what I can see the biggest ‘fad’ of all was being able to make decent money from a small farm, that fad lasted for maybe a generation or two and is now gone, so other ‘fads’ must take its place.

    NI has great potential for agri-tourism.

    There are ways to help small farms but they have to want to be helped, cursing the supermarkets and finding new groups of people to blame for their lack of adaptability will get them nowhere.

  • On the fence!

    Both my son and daughter know the Hillstown people well, they run a good set up there.

    Also, although my own place is pretty small, I have long since diversified and no longer depend on it solely for my livelihood. I only mention that to clarify that I don’t hold a grudge against the system or such like.

    So the diversification thing I do get, but I can’t help but think that anyone with a decent farm, good size, efficiently run, should have produce prices that give them a decent standard of living just for being a decent farmer. Then again, maybe that is the case and all the money is wasted on the inefficient places, both large and small.

    I suppose that takes me back to the point of the whole set up urgently needing looked at properly.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Regarding efficiency; I noticed local (sizable) farms doing all the same activities at the same time using all the available manpower (obvious enough – silage season is silage season etc).

    It got me wondering; rather than farm A have 4 tractors plus garage plus spares plus diesel tank and farm’s B and C having the same (as well as all the other equipment) would it not save thousands upon thousands to ‘pool’ the equipment and share the tasks e.g. everyone ‘fall till’ to bring in all the hay within the collective or silage using shared equipment?

    I’d be surprised if that’s what an agri-corp out DOESN’T do once it takes over a few farms…

  • On the fence!

    Machinery “rings” as they were called were a big initiative a while ago. The few that were on the go run in to problems. Firstly there was the “who goes first” problem at busy times that you’ve already alluded to. Then there was the good old traditional “competitive neighbours” chestnut, namely if you and Wully John both own the tractor, you can stand at the sale ring and bum about having a better one! Besides, there seems to be more money about to buy machinery than ever, and the number of robotic milkers being installed at £120k a pop is just ridiculous.

    Maybe a lot of ground actually DOES need to change hands either voluntarily or otherwise to bring things back to some sort of reality again?

  • Katyusha

    The civil service – what is now DAERA, was previously DARD – have been trying to get farmers to do this for years now. Quite apart from the efficiency savings, they would have been able to draw down EU grants for purchase of equipment, etc, if they were to club together and register an agricultural collective as a company and purchase equipment, provide services etc. under that company. It’s how things work on the continent, and as the EU system was set up based on continental European culture, that is how grant money was distributed. But it’s proved impossible to get farmers in NI to organise in this way, even as a front. Too much of a cultural shift, which dilutes the traditional culture of individual private ownership of farms, equipment and all.

    (Then you got some people who knew about the scheme surreptitiously registering their neighbours as part of their “collective”, but that’s another story!)

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “Willie john?! Thon’s nothin’ but a twister! And his Da was a twister!”

  • On the fence!

    So you actually do know the farming mindset very well.


  • Tochais Siorai

    Farmers usually don’t get anywhere the market price for what they produce so something has to make up the difference and so taxpayers subsidise farmers to get relatively cheap food. And because this food is cheap for the consumer it’s not valued the way it should be and there is enormous waste.

    We have arrived at a situation where essentially, the only people making serious money in the whole food chain are the multi national supermarket chains.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And, TS, all those local companies who buy up farm land for the subsidies alone, and who, with the “carpet slipper farmers” and all their children with farm numbers who never even see the land they claim subsidies on from one years end to the next, all of whom bring the whole subsidy system into serious disrepute, and also throttle the efforts of real farmers.

    I’m very much for a healthy farming sector, but it will not happen until these abuses of the subsidy system are properly looked into alongside another serious look into the manner in which the multi-national supermarket chains force down prices simply “because they can.”