Minister: Michelle O’Neill MLA
Parliamentary Under-Secretary: Vacant
Assembly Spokesman: Oliver McMullan MLA
Oireachtas Spokesman: Michael Colreavy TD
Sinn Féin has held the brief since 2007. In its 2011 Assembly manifesto, the party proposed a review of the less favoured areas policy (taken forward through CAP reform) and all-Ireland marketing. The Minister supports EU proposals for mandatory country-of-origin labelling but would allow local produce to be labelled as British or Irish.
The party also proposed funds to protect rural post offices and to help fishermen cover their fuel costs. DARD officials are developing a ‘scoping paper’ for the Minister on a post office support fund. The fuel fund has been shelved as DARD found no demand from the industry.
Sinn Féin had secured a £10 million rural poverty fund over the last Assembly term and wanted to increase this to £16 million. The final amount was £13 million after budget negotiations. The party also supported the introduction of “a supermarket ombudsman with real power”. Christine Tacon was appointed to the position, which has a UK-wide remit, in January 2013.
Its 2010 Westminster manifesto repeated its commitment to a rural white paper (launched in June 2012) and a “fair outcome” in CAP reform, including a £100,000 cap on single farm payments. A new Forestry Bill, to double forest cover by 2060, may be introduced after CAP reform takes place. Sinn Féin opposes GM crops.
Pat Doherty was Parliamentary Under-Secretary between June 2011 and July 2012; a successor has not yet been appointed.
Assembly Spokesman: Paul Frew MLA
Westminster Spokesman: Ian Paisley Jnr MP
The DUP’s Assembly manifesto called for a “well-resourced” CAP budget which prioritised food security and avoided the transfer of funds from farmers to rural development budgets. The party saw the agri-food sector as a “central pillar of our economic platform” and supported a network of farmers’ markets and farm-gate shops.
It supported the continued ban on Brazilian beef imports and proposed a specific ‘competition commission’ for supermarkets. The DUP would merge DARD and the DoE as part of a reduction in the number of government departments.
In the general election campaign, the party sought clear country-of-origin labelling. Its 2009 European manifesto supported a badger call (to control bovine tuberculosis) and called for the devolution of the Food Standards Agency. Diane Dodds is a member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee and is a substitute on the Fisheries Committee.
Spokeswoman: Jo-Anne Dobson MLA
On CAP reform, the UUP supports the continuation of direct payments to farmers, opposes the further ‘greening’ of direct payments, and seeks a fairer deal for the UK in rural development funding. Its Assembly manifesto also supported a Northern Ireland food and drink taskforce, the implementation of DARD’s better regulation review, the creation of a supermarket ombudsman and the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board. Jim Nicholson is a member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee and the agriculture spokesman for the European Conservatives and Reformists group.
Assembly Spokesman: Joe Byrne MLA
Margaret Ritchie MP
The SDLP Assembly manifesto pledged to get the best deal for Northern Ireland in CAP reform, cut bureaucracy, and help to create 3,300 jobs in the agri-food sector by 2014. It claimed that the Executive’s Budget did not take rural needs into account and needed to be restructured. The decentralisation of 2,000 public sector jobs was also proposed, along with fuel duty relief to benefit rural dwellers. Margaret Ritchie is the only Northern Ireland MP on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee at Westminster.
Spokesman: Kieran McCarthy MLA
As well as supporting Northern Ireland’s case in CAP reform, Alliance wants to see more R&D spending in the sector, a comprehensive animal and plant disease management strategy and an all-island ban on genetically modified plants. Alliance’s 2010 manifesto calls for a shift in support from production and export subsidies towards diversification, conservation and rural development
The TUV criticises the “anti-farming tendency” in DEFRA and prioritises food production in CAP. It views the decentralisation of DARD’s headquarters as wasteful and calls for funds to be allocated to support for food production. A ‘fortress Northern Ireland’ to bio-security threats is preferred to ‘fortress Ireland’.
The Green Party sets a 5 per cent target for organic agriculture, with the aim of reducing artificial and harmful chemicals in the food chain. The current percentage is 0.01 per cent. It calls for local polyculture, rather than export-driven monoculture, and a general increase in forestry cover.
GM crops are opposed.