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23 September 2004 Edition

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Future for farming must be all-Ireland

-BY MICHELLE GILDERNEW MP, MLA (Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture) - On many occasions I have said to both governments and to local activists that a British solution has never worked in addressing an Irish problem.

This is all too apparent when you examine the future of farming communities and rural Ireland.

Since being appointed to the Agriculture portfolio some four weeks ago, I have heard many farmers and their representatives tell me that the British Government has no regard for farmers or rural communities. This message came through very clearly at a conference held by the Livestock and Meat Commission two weeks ago. Farmers were angry and dismayed at the continuing lack of political will to remove a beef export ban that has had such a crippling impact on their incomes.

This ban, as we all know, was as a result of the BSE crisis, a disease which the British failed to control and eradicate. Has our direct rule minister made any public statements or policy announcements stating that this is his top priority? The answer is, of course, no. One of the reasons that this has not become a priority is that agriculture is one of four ministries which he holds. He primarily views the BSE ban only in the context of it being a British problem rather than a problem affecting Irish farmers with solutions that suit the Irish context. He is also a British Labour Party Minister with little or no affinity with Irish farmers or their families.

It is not acceptable that unaccountable and unelected British Ministers, who do not understand the need to urgently develop an Irish Agricultural policy, are determining the future Irish agriculture. Indeed, treating the island as an entity is an anathema to most of them. Few will argue when I say that it is largely the total lack of political will that has meant the North has not had the ban on beef exports lifted by now.

On another related and important topic, there again is no urgency in pushing forward with the all-Ireland animal health policy and building upon the agreed programme of work of the All-Ireland Ministerial Council.

On a whole host of very important matters, such as the implementation of the CAP reforms, Nitrate Directives, Phosphates, Freedom for animals to move throughout the island, Genetically Modified Crops, and animal diseases such as TB and Brucellosis, we have seen stalling from both governments in coming together to drive forward change.

Sinn Féin is committed to delivering change, not just change for one section of our society but for everyone. One of the most difficult aspects of change will be the challenge to the establishment, to institutions and to government departments. They feel threatened when they hear the arguments for an All-Ireland Implementation Body for agriculture and an expansion of the areas of co-operation.

The onus is on us as republicans to allay these fears and set out the agenda for change, showing the benefits to the whole island in all of us working together. The agricultural industry across the country is facing major challenges with the onset of CAP reform, yet this also creates new opportunities. For the first time, farmers can make informed decisions about their futures, and those who choose to do so leave the industry with a fixed income. It is vital that we work together to make the most of these opportunities.

Political will

All of these challenges can be addressed if there is the political will. Sinn Féin is determined to push this agenda forward, not just in Belfast and Dublin but also in Brussels. Whenever Europe or the rest of the world look at Ireland they don't think of the 26 or Six Counties; they think of the whole island. We will be ensuring that the decision makers in Brussels, Belfast, Dublin and London do the same.

Next week I, along with many other party members, will be attending the National Ploughing Championships in Tullow County Carlow, from Tuesday to Thursday. It will provide me with the opportunity to meet people from across the farming and rural spectrum, so I can listen to their needs and set out Sinn Féin's vision for the future of our agriculture industry.


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