Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald has said there must be a fair allocation of the £25 million agriculture and horticulture fund and it must go to the sectors that need it most.
The East Derry MLA said:
“The announcement last week by Finance Minister Conor Murphy of £25 million to support agriculture and horticulture has been warmly greeted by the sector. This has now placed an onus on the DAERA Minister to develop a scheme that will support the industry, where it is needed most at this time.
“Sinn Féin have stressed the importance of looking at all of the sectors and also highlighted that some sectors such as beef and sheep, which represent 80% of all farms in the north, have average annual incomes below £12,000 and would gain very little benefit from existing COVID schemes such as the Self Employed Income Support Scheme.
“This income base will have plummeted even further since the COVID crisis, with various reports indicating a total supply chain loss for sheep of over £30/head and a beef loss of £240/head due to the lockdown.
“A situation must be avoided whereby some sectors can access maximum support from at least 2 COVID schemes and other sectors cannot access any.
“Minister Poots acknowledged that he was conscious of the issue of double funding and whilst no decision has yet been reached on how to allocate the £25m fund he was keen to listen to the views of stakeholders, including those of the AERA committee before making any decision.
“The agri-food and horticulture sectors have taken a severe hit during the COVID lockdown and this will be difficult to recover from.
“It is important that sectoral opinion is taken on board in the design of the scheme and I would encourage farmers to make their voices heard.
“While the £25m fund will not solve all of the issues, it is very welcome and must be directed to where it is needed most and allocated in accordance with the Department’s equality duties.”