11 May 2001
Northern Ireland needs CAP – Rodgers

By Alistair Driver

NORTHERN Ireland farm minister Brid Rodgers has voiced opposition to plans by UK farm minister Nick Brown to reform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

In an exclusive interview with FARMERS WEEKLY, Mrs Rodgers said she opposed Mr Browns plans for a move away from food production subsidies towards environmental grants.

She said: Our industry is quite different to Great Britain as most of our farming is extensive.

“Most Northern Ireland farmers could not afford to be without subsidies and we wouldnt want to see them done away with.

Mrs Rodgers claimed that leaders of the devolved Welsh and Scottish administrations shared her doubts over Mr Browns plans to reform farm subsidies.

She said she would rather hold future talks on the issue with the Republic of Ireland within the North-South council, which brings together politicians from both sides of the Irish border.

Mrs Rodgers is a member of Northern Irelands biggest nationalist party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party.

She said: We are part of the UK and will be working with the other ministers in Great Britain.

“But we have worked very closely with the Republic during the foot-and-mouth crisis and I think farmers in Northern Ireland are increasingly seeing the benefits of co-operation.

The North-South council has already been instrumental in introducing measures to stamp out the illegal movements of British sheep south across the border.

The illicit trade, done largely to cash in on a VAT rebate on sheep from the Republic, was blamed for Northern Irelands first foot-and-mouth outbreak in March.

Sheep that tested positive at a farm in Meigh, Co Armagh on 01 March, had been bought at Carlisle, England.

The animals were imported on the condition that they went straight to slaughter in Northern Ireland. But they were taken to farms in the North, with a view to being moved on, possibly to the south.

The Republic immediately clamped down by insisting on individual tagging, better documentation and draconian punishments, including prison, for illegal traders.

Mrs Rodgers has proposed similar measures in Northern Ireland. She added: We have worked very closely together on the problem.

foot-and-mouth had been a bitter blow for Northern Ireland, where the whole population relies heavily agriculture, said Mrs Rodgers.

The crisis could end up costing the economy over 300 million, she said.

If there are no more cases, however, Ulster farmers may claw back some losses by selling more produce to Britain, where supply has been more heavily reduced.

Northern Ireland had benefited from having its own administration during the crisis, rather than being run from London, said Mrs Rodgers.

The province would get a head-start reclaiming lost export markets if it regained its disease-free status before the rest of the UK, she said.

I was able to close our ports immediately on 20 February and now we can push for regionalised disease-free status.

Mrs Rodgers said the diametrically opposed political parties that make up the Northern Ireland Assembly had put aside their differences during the crisis.

We have worked extremely well together as a government. If anything, there has been less effort to make political capital here than there has been in Britain.

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