Despite the fact that the political parties did not elect a new Stormont Assembly Speaker last week, Edwin Poots can remain as agriculture minister for Northern Ireland – in shadow form – for a further six months.
All of this changes, of course, if a new Northern Ireland Executive is activated within this period of time.
Speculation continues to mount regarding Sinn Féin’s plans for the farming sectors in Northern Ireland during the period ahead.
Assuming a new Executive is green-lighted at some stage, the party would be in the box seat when it comes to taking up the farming and food ministerial position.
Sinn Féin agriculture spokesman in Northern Ireland Declan McAleer is remaining very tight lipped about these matters.
He attended last week’s Balmoral Show where he confirmed the need for cost of living support monies, previously transferred from Westminster to Stormont, to be unlocked with immediate effect.
Of this allocation, a total of £70 million has been earmarked to support farmers. According to McAleer this money can be used to allow farmers defray the significant hikes in all input costs that have impacted on their businesses over recent months.
But the Sinn Féin politician points to what he regards as the legally binding requirement for a Stormont Executive to sign-off on this matter.
Edwin Poots begs to differ.
Poots on Northern Ireland Protocol
The agriculture minister used his Balmoral visits to highlight the ‘perceived’ divisive nature of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
He also recognised the very great 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 agriculture minister commented:
“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.
“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.”
Other priorities for Edwin Poots over the next weeks and months will be the full ratification and implementation of the bovine TB eradication programme, announced prior to the Stormont Assembly elections.
He will also want to see further debate on his farm reform proposals, which were also published prior to the election.