I was about to come to that. I am very glad that things from the South can be slain in Northern Ireland, but our pigs should have priority.
I come now to the very important matter of pricing. It is very important. In the basement cafeteria here I asked for a sausage and was told that it cost 35p. I then asked for a slice of bacon to go round the sausage, and that was another 30p — 65p for one sausage and one slice of bacon. Look at the prices the farmers are getting for their pigs. Why is it, with the drastic fall in the price to the farmer, that the housekeeper and the buyer in the shops are getting nothing? In fact, it seems that the prices of pork and bacon are rising, not falling.
During the week that commenced 20 June 1998, around the time of the fire, the price was 85p per kilo. During the next two weeks Maltons had no pigs taken in, but in the week that commenced 6 July 1998 it shipped its first pigs to England at 85p per kilo. During the next week it shipped again, and the price dropped to 78p per kilo. No pigs were moved during the next week, but in the week that commenced 27 July 1998, the price dropped to 60p per kilo. No pigs were moved during the week after that, and during the following week the price dropped to 50p per kilo. These are drastic cuts in price.
The farmers waited impatiently — and rightly so — for Maltons to make a decision. There were lots of negotiations, which I will not go into today, and I am aware of them all but the Industrial Development Board paid a large subsidy to buy Wilsons, the Unipork people, and make the deal with Maltons. I must pay tribute to Lord Dubs and the Industrial Development Board because a lot of money was paid for this. Wilsons changed hands and did very well out of the deal — Mr Wilson got all his debts paid, and £10 million into his hand as well. He nearly did as well as he has done out of mushrooms, but that is a story for another day.
We all thought that the first priority in Cookstown would be to kill Northern Ireland pigs. What has happened? Northern Ireland pigs have been killed, but more pigs from the South have been killed in Cookstown than ever before. A backlog of pigs is now rising. Somewhere in the region of 20,000 pigs are waiting to be slaughtered. If that figure rises to 40,000, where will the pig industry be? We, as public representatives, have a duty to make known our alarm about what is taking place. There are no two arguments to this.
These are facts, and facts are stubborn things. I cannot give names, but I have studied these figures very carefully. Producer A, since the fire, has been able to ship just 28% of his pigs. All Members, even those who have no experience of farming, will know that pigs have to be fed. And, of course, if the pigs get too fat, the farmer will not benefit from all the meal that he has bought. In fact, the pigs become a liability. That is the tragedy. Producer B has shipped 39% of his pigs, while producer C has shipped only 30%.
It is important to remember that the farmers have to wait 12 days before getting a penny in payment. There is no cash flow in the pig industry today. These people have their backs against the wall. Indeed, some of them have contemplated suicide. That is a fact. They have had to be counselled. Why? Because people in the pig industry always had a cash flow and worked hard to make their industry viable. Now they cannot meet the feed bills. I understand that around £40 million is owed to the millers at present.
What have public representatives done? Assembly Members have met all the bankers, together with the Secretary of the Northern Ireland Banks Association. We have talked to them. We have pleaded with them to ease their pressure on farmers.
They told us that they had difficulties, but we said that banks did not go bankrupt. They are all in the money. They boast of making millions of pounds every year but farmers are going bankrupt. The banking sector has a responsibility.
We have also talked to the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland. Last weekend, we put pressure on it again about the slaughtering of pigs that had been raised in the Republic of Ireland. I was at a meeting at which the Social Democratic and Labour Party Member for Mid Ulster, Mr Haughey, proposed that pigs be sent to a factory across the border to be slaughtered. Instead of that, pigs from the South are being brought up to Cookstown to be slaughtered, thus preventing the slaughter of pigs that have been reared in Northern Ireland.
The Government must face their responsibilities. This is an ongoing crisis. The backlog that is starting in the pig industry will increase and, as it increases, farmers and pig men will go to the wall.
I know that I speak for all those who have the interests of agriculture at heart when I say that the Government must not allow this industry to go to the wall. How can the Industrial Development Board justify using taxpayers’ money to finance Maltons without first purchasing all Northern Ireland pigs, before topping up with Southern pigs? Is it for financial reasons? Are their commercial requirements more important than the preservation of a viable industry in Northern Ireland? It is annoying that Southern pigs are being killed in Cookstown, and it is totally unacceptable that the price paid for Southern pigs is approximately 10p per kilo more than for Northern Ireland pigs. That averages out at £7 per pig. That means that our farmers are losing £7 per pig in a factory that is financed by Northern Ireland taxpayers, and that should not be. The House needs to make its presence felt on this matter.