Northern Ireland’s agriculture minister, Edwin Poots, believes Stormont Executive approval is not required to unlock a £340 million Westminster aid package.
The money was earmarked to help Northern Ireland address the fast-escalating cost-of-living crisis.
Instead, Poots points to finance minister Conor Murphy having the authority to release the equivalent amount of money from funding sources already available to him within his own department.
“It would then be a case of drawing the Westminster money back into Department of Finance reserves once a new Executive is formed,” Poots stated.
However, the recently elected MLA for south Belfast made it very clear that a new Executive would not be formed at Stormont until such time as the issues relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol have been resolved.
But he continues to insist that £70 million of the Westminster support package can be made available to the farming sector.
Poots on the future of agriculture
Looking to the future, Poots said that he wanted to put farming in Northern Ireland on a profitable and sustainable footing for the long-term.
When asked why very little specific reference is made to the needs of young farmers within his recently published agricultural reform proposals, he said: “Young people will want to get involved in farming if they see there is a viable future within the industry for them.
“This is why it is so important that the steps are taken in the first place to make agriculture in Northern Ireland a profitable proposition for everyone working within it.”
Poots also made to clear that he wants to see greater training and education-related opportunities for young people seeking to develop a career within the agricultural sectors.
He also recognised the pressures on farm incomes at the present time. Part of the solution here, in his opinion, is for retailers to deliver a better price back to primary producers.
“The supermarkets have made very large profits over the past couple of years. This was achieved on the back of a food supply chain, which is underpinned by the efforts of farmers,” he said.
“Retailers must recognise the needs of their farmer suppliers at the present time.
“And this means paying them prices that fully take account of the devastating impact created by rampant feed and fertiliser price inflation.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein has confirmed that farming will remain a key priority for the party during the period ahead.
The party’s agriculture spokesperson in Northern Ireland Declan McAleer, said that establishing a new Executive at Stormont is the number one priority.
But he discounts the view that the money from Westminster could be unlocked without a full Stormont Executive being in situ.
He said: “The advice available to me at the present time clearly indicates that a full Executive must meet to allow the allocation of the Westminster monies.”