The Assembly’s Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee (AERA) received briefings today from a number of agricultural and environmental stakeholders on the possible challenges and opportunities of the recent EU Referendum.
Today’s meeting was also the first opportunity for the Committee to speak to representatives from the Department and to learn more about how it intends to work to support and protect local interests.
Speaking after today’s meeting, Committee Chairperson Linda Dillon MLA said: “While Members of this Committee will have very differing views on the outcome of the referendum, let there be no doubt that there is a very real determination that we will work together to deliver the best possible deal for our local rural communities.
“There is a great deal of unease among rural groups and organisations about what this will mean in terms of future funding to target rural isolation and deprivation. Our rural dwellers will need reassurances that they will not be negatively impacted and that their interests will be front and centre of any deal which has to be negotiated.
“Agriculture is one of our most important industries and of course Brexit will have major implications, not only in terms of the future of farm subsidies and environmental protections, but importantly, on how it could affect our access to key EU markets.”
Ms Dillon continued: “We are at the beginning of what will no doubt be a very long and unsettling period. We do not have a clear picture of what the future will be but we can be sure that the coming weeks and months will present many challenges.
“Our farmers produce some of the finest food in the world. They have already experienced a great deal of market volatility in recent years and we as a Committee must continue to work together to ensure that their voices are heard.
“The possible changes to funding and regulations remain unknown and will create some uncertainty in planning for the future. We do however welcome the fact that Minister McIlveen and her Department will be establishing a senior team to look at all implications. This team will play a crucial role in ensuring that the interests of our farmers, environmentalists and rural communities are taken account of in both London and Europe.”
Ms Dillon concluded: “Today’s meeting has been an important opportunity to speak to those who will be impacted directly by Brexit. We have heard their very real concerns and indeed the viewpoints of all those they represent.
“It is vital that the Minister and her Department take note of the issues expressed today and that they seek to provide the necessary assurances that our relationship with the EU is retained for our agricultural and environmental sectors.”