A Chathaoirligh, may I thank Dr Paisley, the Member for North Antrim, for providing us with the opportunity to raise this matter. There is a crisis not only in the pig industry but in agriculture generally throughout the Six Counties.
Farmers are wondering whether this is a deliberate policy by the British Government and the European Union simply to wind up the agriculture industry here. We seem to go from one crisis to another, and no attempt is made by either the British Government or the European Union to resolve them.
We have had the BSE crisis and the attempts to resolve that crisis involved isolating beef produced here from that of British beef. Remember this is different — it is reared and looked after in this country. As Dr Paisley has said, the strip of water between us is all that separates the two standards. We need to recognise that the beef and pork produced here have probably been of a higher standard than that in the rest of Europe.
Now we have the decline of the pig industry, which is a major crisis for pig producers, and for the small farmers in particular. For years they have survived on mixed farming, producing beef cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry. Every part of this industry has been affected by scares of different kinds. Why do we have these scares? Sometimes there is little fact to support or substantiate the claims that are made.
A lot of blame has been attached to the fire at the Ballymoney plant, and that did reduce the killing and curing capacity. But that in itself has not created the crisis. There have been many different reasons, but I would like to concentrate on the packaging of bacon and pork products in the Six Counties. Time and again we see pig products on the shelves labelled "Processed in Northern Ireland", but that does not tell us the source of those products. Many of them come from Denmark and other Scandinavian countries.
There is confusion with regard to packaging. Source needs to be clearly identified so that customers may be assured that they are supporting the local industry.
The crisis is a result of the absence of an overall agriculture policy. The Six Counties has been linked to Britain industrially but has lost out on the agricultural side, as Dr Paisley has said, whereas for years the South of Ireland has benefited from European funding.
We need a co-ordinated agriculture policy in Ireland. It is important that we speedily move to set up appropriate Departments, the scrutiny Committees and, most important of all, a North/South body to bring about an all-Ireland agriculture policy.
What is the point in blaming Ministers who have other responsibilities? We need to move speedily to the appointment of a Minister who can demonstrate to the Assembly that he is doing all in his power to ensure that, for example, the pig industry prospers.
Undoubtedly we need support from the European Union.
We have heard today how all aspects of the pig industry in the North and in the South are linked. I welcome the news that throughout Ireland there is growing co-operation in all aspects of farming — not excluding the unions. We have an opportunity to help. We should not sidestep the issue but should set up appropriate Ad Hoc Committees with power to scrutinise and to plan for the future. Let us stop moving from one crisis to another.
We should move speedily to set up an Executive that is responsible for a Ministry of Agriculture and will lead to the establishment of a North/South body. It is important that this Assembly have powers of control and scrutiny.
We have an opportunity today to speak with a united voice in support of the pig industry and to show that we are concerned. Meetings are all very fine, but we need to move speedily to practical issues. We must use practical means to deal with the crisis.