Stormont’s agriculture department has come under fire for saying it has no plan in the event of an exit from the EU.
Last night the DUP mayor of Ards and North Down Alan Graham – a long-standing farmer, perhaps best known for his encounter with raunchy pop star Rihanna in 2011 – attacked the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) after it stated that it does not have any back-up scheme to which it can resort if the UK votes to quit Europe in less than four months’ time.
DARD is headed by Sinn Fein MLA Michelle O’Neill, and Alderman Graham noted that the republican party has made its pro-EU position very clear, adding: “I suppose I can expect her department to go along that particular line.”
Alderman Graham said the idea that the authorities have no contingency plan strikes him as “total nonsense”.
It came after UFU president Ian Marshall yesterday said that the union would not encourage its own members to vote one way or the other on June 23, and that it would not participate on one side or the other in any public debates over the issue of European membership.
Northern Irish farmers currently receive EU farming subsidies worth hundreds of millions of pounds per year, and the News Letter had asked DARD this week howthey would obtain support in the event of an EU pull-out.
The department was asked whether they would have to re-apply for funding, and if can they could be assured they would not see a drop in the amount of cash they receive.
DARD responded: “There are no contingency plans in relation to payments currently made under the CAP[Common Agricultural Policy] in the event of a British withdrawal from the EU.”
This echoes comments from the Westminister farming minister Liz Truss, who has been quoted by Farmers’ Weekly as saying that, when it comes to a contingency plan, “we don’t have any team working on that”.
It was put to a spokesman from Number 10 Downing Street that it must surely be the case that such a plan exists, but no official response was forthcoming.
Barley farmer Alderman Graham – whose party opposes ongoing membership of the EU, and who himself voted against membership of the common market in 1975 – said: “How can the Prime Minister call a referendum, and say: ‘If it goes the opposite way that I want it to go, I’ve no contingency plan’? That’s total nonsense. There has to be a contingency plan.”
Alderman Graham is aged 66, and has farmed land just outside Bangor since the late ‘70s. He earned a brief moment of fame in 2011 when he chastised singer Rihanna for her lack of clothing as she shot a music video on his land.
He concluded that if any government department, when faced with a referendum which has two possible outcomes, decided not to plan accordingly then “it is time they were looking for another job”.
“They’re not representing the agricultural community, nor are they representing the consumers of food,” he said.
“I find it a crazy claim for any department to make and a totally irresponsible approach for them to take.
“That’s maybe putting it a wee bit strong, but that’s what I feel.”
He said many farmers had become “very dependent” on the subsidies, but that there was “absolutely no reason” why the UK government could not provide subsidies directly.