Sinn Féin has confirmed that farming in Northern Ireland will remain a key priority for the party during the period ahead.

However, no decision has ben taken as to whether or not if it will push for the agriculture ministry, if and when a new Stormont Executive is formed.

This was the clear message from Sinn Fein’s agriculture spokesperson in Northern Ireland, Declan McAleer. He was a visitor to Balmoral Show on day 2 of this year’s event, which is underway this week.

“Establishing a new Executive at Stormont is our number one priority,” McAleer confirmed.

“If this is achieved, it will allow the immediate payment of the £340 million transferred from Westminster to Stormont to the Assembly election.

 “This money was allocated in recognition of the swinging increases in the cost of living that have impacted on everyone over recent weeks and months.

“Of this transfer, £70 million had been earmarked for farming. This money is needed by farmers to allow them met the costs of fertiliser, which they need to sow right now,” he added.

Funding and the future of agriculture for Sinn Féin

McAleer discounted the suggestion that the money from Westminster could be unlocked without a full Stormont Executive being in situ.

“The advice available to me at the present time clearly indicates that a full [Stormont] Executive must meet to allow the allocation of the Westminster monies.”

Another priority for Sinn Féin will be the introduction of legislation which would allow for the re-establishment of Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) payments. These were discontinued back in 2018.

“I have a draft private members’ bill ready to go on this matter; it has been thoroughly assessed by members of the Stormont legal advisory teams,” said McAleer.

“My plan is to introduce the new bill as soon as the Assembly and Executive are fully operational again.”

According to the Sinn Féin representative the ANC bill could be fully enacted by the autumn of this year, assuming it gets a fair debate at Stormont.

“This means the monies could be available for farmers during the spring of 2023,” he confirmed.

An annual budget of £20 million will be required to cover the envisaged ANC payments. McAleer makes the point that the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) can draw this money down as part of the block grant to Northern Ireland from Westminster.

“There is also the prospect of the bovine TB compensation budget contracting in the wake of the new disease eradication measures. So the potential to transfer monies from one fund to the other also exists,” McAleer added.

Declan McAleer has welcomed the decision taken by the north’s agriculture minister, Edwin Poots, to make available the 2022 basic payments, in full, during the month of September.

“But we are looking at the prospects of a very difficult winter for agriculture ahead. This is why we need the establishment of the new Stormont Executive agreed as quickly as possible.”