Whitehall Agriculture Secretary Michael Gove met with senior DUP figures in Northern Ireland over the weekend, but according to Sinn Fein cancelled planned discussions with them at the last minute.
The meeting with senior DUP figures underlines the party’s new partnership arrangement which kept the Conservative Party in power after the bruising general election called by Prime Minister Theresa May.
DUP sources last night said they could not shed any light on why a meeting between the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) secretary and Sinn Fein may have been cancelled. Sinn Fein also said it did not know the reason.
Last week Mr Gove said that farm subsidies will have to be earned rather than just handed out after Brexit – but he also sought to reassure farmers in Northern Ireland about the level of subsidies they will receive.
Commenting after their meeting, DUP South Antrim MP Paul Girvan said: “I welcome Mr Gove’s visit to Northern Ireland over the weekend and I am sure this will be one of many, given the important role he will play in the future of agriculture and environmental policy in the coming years.
“This visit highlights the fact that the DUP will continue to input into government the need for an agriculture policy which delivers for farmers, rural areas and the wider economy in particular. We have demonstrated to government that we take agriculture seriously which can be seen in the commitment to funding for direct support in the supply and confidence deal.”
Mr Girvan said he had highlighted the need to protect Northern Ireland’s “family farming structure” and emphasised DUP views on cheaper “lower standard” imported foods competing with local produce which must adhere to a long list of regulations.
Last week Sinn Fein criticised Mr Gove’s comments about farmers having to earn subsidies.
Sinn Fein national chairperson Declan Kearney MLA said Mr Gove pulled out of a pre-arranged meeting with Sinn Fein at Antrim Show on Saturday “without prior notice at the very last minute”.
He added: “This is the latest example of the Tories’ disrespect for voters in the north and is in default of the British government’s responsibility.”
l Antrim Show: page 14