A Chathaoirligh, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, ba mhaith liom mo thacaíocht a chur in iúl do na feirmeoirí uilig atá faoi bhrú mar gheall ar easpa straitéise ó thaobh na hÚdaráisí, mar a thugtar orthu, agus mar gheall ar dheacrachtaí áirithe a thit amach ar na mallaibh.
I want to support the motion. Aontaím go ginearálta leis an rún atá idir chaibidil againn. I endorse the comments of other Members who have spoken in this debate. All of us have been well lobbied through our daily contacts with farmers in our constituencies and through extensive correspondence from the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers’ Association and the Ulster Farmers’ Union. Farmers are in despair and under tremendous strain. In the past they earned a reputation for complaining, but on this occasion the complaints should be listened to.
The crisis extends across the whole agriculture sector. Cattle and sheep prices have plummeted to record lows, but the pig industry is a special case. The agriculture industry has suffered a succession of body blows and neither the British Government nor the European Union have responded appropriately to the crisis.
Immediate, radical action is needed to arrest the general decline.
There is a tendency towards rural depopulation, a drift from the land. A comprehensive, integrated, rural strategy with agriculture at its core and supported by the EU is needed. That strategy should consider sympathetically the plight of small farmers. It should aim at making small farms viable and try to keep farmers on the land. To make farming viable, it could consider agri-tourism and diversification.
Many farmers are under severe pressure. They wonder whether they have made a wise choice in travelling the road less travelled. Agriculture is obviously one key area where all-Ireland development would be beneficial to everyone, North and South, cross-border, all-island. It suits my party to make that point politically, but it is also common sense. The same could be said of the delivery of the Health Service and on other issues. It is navel-gazing for us to restrict ourselves to the Six Counties in considering the delivery of services or the development of industry. Farmers will not thank us for being myopic in that regard.
Can the relevant agencies increase kill and cure space and slaughter capacity? Is there any scope for the adaptation of meat plants which are presently on low production? My point about all-Ireland development is pertinent when one considers what happened at Ballymoney. Was it not prudent, from a cost-saving perspective alone, to look south for spare slaughter capacity when there was no readily available spare capacity in the Six County state?
We should stop navel-gazing and look towards all-Ireland development of the agricultural economy. Our farmers will thank us for doing that.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.