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O’Neill disappointed after Special Agriculture Council

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Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill today spoke of her disappointment regarding the lack of detail on the package of proposals brought forward by the Commission today.

The Special Agriculture Council was convened today to consider the current crisis across a number of farm sectors, especially the dairy sector. The Commission announced a package which it said was focussed on addressing: the cash flow difficulties facing farmers; the functioning of the supply chain; and stabilising markets.

Speaking after the meeting in Brussels, Minister O’Neill said: “The Commission’s response falls short of the immediate meaningful action I have been pushing for strenuously regarding raising the intervention price. Instead we have a commitment to funding of 500million euro.

“While this funding is welcome, my concern is how far it will stretch across 28 Member States and how it will be apportioned within our Member State to help those farmers in greatest need. Our dairy prices are down 36% on last year, more than double the figure of 17% for Britain and the North of Ireland together. The particular circumstances facing our local farmers were recognised in the Council Chamber today. My job is to make sure that our share is based on need and reflective of our vulnerability given the amount of product we export.”

Earlier in the day, the Minister held separate meetings with farming union representatives, her counterpart in the south, Simon Coveney, DEFRA Secretary of State Liz Truss, and the agriculture ministers from Scotland and Wales – Richard Lochhead and Rebecca Evans where she again impressed upon each of them the need for swift and effective action from Europe.

Last week Minister O’Neill led a strong delegation of political and industry interests to meet EU Commissioner Phil Hogan and his senior officials to press for additional support for the dairy sector. She took the opportunity to highlight the impact of global market conditions on our dairy industry and reiterated her belief that there is a greater need than ever to examine the intervention system and assess whether it adequately fulfils the role of providing an effective safety net. She also pressed for an aid package to help dairy farmers now and articulated the difficulties that were being faced by other farming sectors at this time.

Previously, the Minister had led a delegation – including the UFU and Dairy UK – to London to meet Ministers Truss, Lochhead and Evans where she called for support in raising the intervention price.

The Minister concluded: “The package announced today raises more questions than it could answer. I want clarification that the funding package is new money and that we also hear quickly how much of this funding will support our farmers in the north. I will continue to work closely with our industry on the implications of today’s announcements.

“I have always maintained that this crisis cannot be solved at a local level alone. Following today’s meeting I want to see the Commission provide the detail around its proposals, how they will work in practice and vitally how they will make a real difference.”

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