Early pay-out in N Ireland eases crisis
AID payments worth £5m to Northern Irelands farmers have been released early by government to ease a cash-flow crisis in the province.
The payments, to be made under the Sub-Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development scheme for capital grants, were frozen last year after the Conservative government suddenly closed entry to the scheme.
More than 5000 producers, who had already carried out work needed to qualify for the grants, were told they would not be paid until after Apr 1998.
But Northern Ireland farm minister Lord Dubs agreed to begin paying producers immediately, following a meeting where Ulster Farmers Union leaders underlined the difficulties being experienced by NI farmers, especially beef producers.
Will Taylor, UFU deputy president, explained that average beef prices in the province were currently 18p-20p/kg liveweight lower than those in Britain.
"With over 8000 head finished in Northern Ireland a week, producers are dependent on intervention contracts. But none has been offered recently, forcing prices down and adding to the cash crisis," said Mr Taylor.
While he welcomed Lord Dubss action in releasing the payments, Mr Taylor urged UK farm minister Jack Cunningham to lobby tirelessly on behalf of NI beef producers for an immediate lifting of the beef export ban.
"The situation is quite desperate in Northern Ireland and the ban is not justifiable here because we have met all scientific and technical requirements laid down in the Florence agreement," said Mr Taylor.
But, with EU commissioners and the standing veterinary committee due to decide in the coming weeks whether the ban could be lifted for certified herds, Mr Taylor said he was less optimistic now than he had been last autumn.
"Since that time, the governments political position has been weakened by the beef import ban, beef inquiry and beef on-the-bone issues. And I fear this might negate our strong technical and scientific argument for an end to the ban," he said.
Will Taylor says the situation for NIbeef producers is desperate.