I support this vital motion. When a topic has been well aired by other Members, one wonders if anything more can be said. One issue that does need to be addressed is the role of the Department of Agriculture, our local Department in all of this, referred to by Dr Paisley as the people down the road in the same campus as ourselves.
It worries me to think that the large number of civil servants, on secure, handsome salaries, have not been able, in spite of all their endeavours, to provide crisis plans for an industry that has already had a considerable number of crises.
What is wrong with having a crisis plan so that European Union funds can be accessed quickly when an industry is affected? Why can imaginative ideas not be introduced to prevent the worst kinds of suffering?
There is a very serious crisis in the sheep industry and, as a representative for South Down and the Mourne sheep farmers, it is incumbent on me to comment on it. This crisis is rapidly becoming as serious as that in the pig industry. I am calling for action — sheep farmers need an emergency deal now.
Mr Kennedy referred to the Government’s misinformation about BSE in the sheep industry. Consequently there is alarm in that industry. There is almost the development of a food-scare cult, and some people think it is fashionable to make alarmist statements without realising their disastrous consequences.
The Department of Agriculture could develop a proactive plan — for example, a very practical measure would be the early payment of the sheep annual premium. Indeed, moneys that are currently outstanding should be paid over now.
The Assembly’s Agriculture Committee and the cross-border committees will have to scrutinise the Department’s lack of imagination. Plans will have to be scrutinised so that they can deal with tragedies such as that faced by the sheep industry.
Hill farmers are also alarmed that Agenda 2000 proposals may lead to the Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowance being removed. Again, the Department needs to provide clarification and assure farmers that that will not be the case.
An average small farmer in my area may have only 100 ewes and 10 cows from which he receives an income of £675 and £1600 respectively — a total income of only £2275 for a marginal hill farmer. There would be disastrous consequences were that allowance to be removed, considering all the other things that farmers have had to suffer in recent times.
I support the motion.