Is this UFU’s finest hour?

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The Ulster Farmers’ Union has delivered a refreshingly upbeat message regarding the prospects for agriculture in Northern Ireland post-Brexit.

The organisation’s president Barclay Bell was more than happy to talk about the opportunities associated with Brexit at both the UFU roadshow meeting in Limavady on Monday night past and, again, at a press briefing held later in the week.

There is also little doubt that the Union is going to up its game over the coming months, when it comes to getting its Brexit policy priorities out in the public domain. At a very fundamental level, the appointment of two additional members of headquarters’ staff will help free up chief executive Wesley Aston and other senior policy people to really focus on the Brexit challenge at hand.

Let’s be clear about this: Northern Ireland’s Executive and Assembly may well be moth balled for a considerable period of time, given the recent ‘breakdown in communication’ at Stormont. And, in these circumstances, the Union is the obvious ambassador for agriculture in the upcoming Brexit talks. DAERA officials may well be working feverishly in the background. But they will not raise their heads above the parapet. I have often been regaled with the line: “I don’t do press” by DAERA permanent secretary Noel Lavery. Admittedly, he had his minister in tow on most occasions. But I always got the impression that facing up to the media is not ‘number 1’ on the wish list of career civil servants.

Meanwhile, lobby organisations such as Holstein UK, Farmers for Action and NIAPA should quickly realise that they do not have the scope or logistical wherewithal to comprehensively represent the needs of local farmers over the crucial months ahead. Under such circumstances, they should bite the bullet and strive to agree a common approach with the Union. The old adage immediately comes to mind in this regard: united we stand – divided we fall!

No pressure on the Union then. That organisation is looking forward to its centenary year in 2018. And, as things are shaping up, all of this could coincide with the UFU’s finest hour or, if the organisation does not get its act together, its greatest hour of need!