Agri-food Sector: Investment

Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 29 April 2024.

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Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin 3:00, 29 April 2024

7. Mr McAleer asked the Minister for the Economy for an update on proposals to introduce a scheme to invest in the agri-food sector. (AQO 359/22-27)

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I recognise the importance of the agri-food processing sector to our economy and the contribution that it will make to delivering my economic strategy. My Department, through Invest NI, provides a wide range of support to the sector in areas including innovation, skills, sustainability and export development. However, the sector faces challenges including a productivity gap compared with firms in the South and in Britain. I am supportive of activities that will help to address that challenge and will consider any proposals that are presented to me in relation to support for the agri-food and drink-processing sector.

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat.

[Translation: Thank you.]

I thank the Minister for his commitment. What is the potential timeline for any scheme to support the agri-food sector to be formulated and launched?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

A project for that is under discussion. It has been through various processes, including in my Department, and is now going through a business case process in the Department of Finance. I expect that we will be in a position this year to announce support for the sector.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Minister, with regard to the agri-food sector and wider farm produce, will your Department be in a position to contribute in any way to the obligations of the just transition?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

As, I am sure, the Member will understand, it will lie primarily in the remit of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to assist people to get land and farms into that area. We will be able to contribute to that, even through some of the areas that were referred to in the previous questions on connectivity and making grid connections more accessible for people. The move towards a just transition and towards the targets that we have set ourselves is not for a single Department; we all have a responsibility. We have a legal obligation but also a moral one. Given the rural society that we live in, there are opportunities for farmers and landowners to become involved in that work. We will be happy to do anything that we can across all Departments, including mine, to support that.