Have the North’s MLAs gone MIA?

‘Missing in Action’ (MIA) is a term used by the military for combatants who cannot be accounted for after some form of engagement with the enemy.

Given the events at Stormont last week, I am wondering if we can now say the same thing about the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in Northern Ireland who, if they haven’t gone MIA, have certainly decided to leave the field of play while taking the ball with them.

Never before have the farming and food industries in the North needed a strong political voice to represent their interests as is the case today.

To say that the political classes have let the industry down would be an understatement of some magnitude. In fact, it’s nothing short of a disgrace.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the fate of the North’s farming and food sectors beyond Brexit may well be determined by faceless bureaucrats, most of whom are based in London.

This is a perspective I gleaned courtesy of a recent conversation with Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) chairman Declan Billington.

Is he worried about this? Of course he is – and rightly so.

This is what we get for having no effective voice at Stormont.

The current political vacuum has only one, inevitable end-point. Civil servants will be left to carry the can when it comes to formulating Brexit and all the other policies that have an impact on the lives of ordinary farmers.

My understanding is that all of Northern Ireland’s food trade bodies – including NIFDA, the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association and Dairy UK – have commissioned a GB-based consultancy to work through the options that could be implemented to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland.

This would be a Plan B scenario, in the event of the UK and the EU-27 failing to agree a comprehensive free trade deal.

All this endeavour is very necessary. But, surely, it’s the job of the North’s elected representatives to be doing this work on behalf of the farming and food sectors.

Last week saw Ulster Unionist party leader Robin Swann suggesting that the Stormont Agriculture Committee could be re-convened as a means of allowing the farming industry to formulate a cohesive response to the challenge of Brexit.

If needs be, this could be done on an informal basis. However, such a development would allow the politicians to take evidence on the Brexit issue and, subsequently, make direct representation on behalf of the farming and food industries with the final policy makers in Belfast, Dublin, London and Brussels.

It all makes perfect sense to me!