Stormont stalemate: 8 Department of Agriculture decisions awaiting ministerial sign-off

Eight policy decisions within Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) await ministerial sign-off because of the Stormont stalemate.

The information was obtained by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) through a Freedom of Information request.

It’s thought one of the decisions may include compensation for farmers in the north-west who saw their fields and fences destroyed by the floods in August 2017.

UUP MEP Jim Nicholson said: “There is clearly a wider problem here and there is an urgent need to get a Northern Ireland Executive back in place so decision can be made.

The two largest parties in Northern Ireland need to realise that being left in political limbo is damaging not only agriculture, but the many other areas in Northern Ireland.

Crisis fund

The party also found that, since its inception in 2014, no money from the EU crisis reserve had been used.

The department’s response stated: “As a consequence the monies deducted from direct payments (financial discipline) to create the crisis reserve have been returned to farmers in the following scheme year.

“The NI share of the monies being returned to farmers in the 2017 scheme year under this mechanism (known as financial discipline reimbursement) is €3,757,524.”

Meanwhile in the Republic, flood-stricken farmers were able to avail of a maximum of €15,000 each. It’s understood the majority of those affected have already been paid.

‘Sorely needed’

Nicholson added: “The fact that the compensation, which is sorely needed by many farm businesses affected by the devastating effects of the flooding last August, cannot be released is just one example of how the lack of a functioning Northern Ireland Executive is hurting the sector locally.

“Without ministerial sign-off, many farmers and their businesses are suffering due to the lengthy political limbo Northern Ireland is in.

‘Complimentary to compensation’

Nicholson highlighted that the department had made efforts to pay an advance on CAP payments to alleviate cashflow problems and had also held workshops to help affected farmers.

However, he said: “This should realistically only be complimentary to compensation, and certainly are not the sole resolutions to the hardship many have faced.

“This more than anything highlights the real need for a minister to explore and develop different options quickly in order to get much-needed compensation to those farms that need it.

“You just have to look over the border to Co. Donegal, where many farm businesses were likewise damaged and compensation is now beginning to be released to those affected.”