The interests of farmers are still best served by a functioning executive at Stormont, Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) parliamentary officer, Alexander Kinnear told members at an online event last Friday.

During his presentation Kinnear acknowledged that lobbying local politicians can be frustrating, but it is preferable to have them in place “because we don’t achieve a whole lot when they’re not”.

Despite that, he said it was “disappointing” that none of the main political parties saw DAERA as a priority and it was again left to be the last pick of government departments.

As a result, the brief fell to the Alliance party and although new DAERA Minister Andrew Muir has no experience of agriculture, Robin Swann (Health) isn’t a doctor and John O’Dowd (Infrastructure) isn’t an engineer, said Kinnear.

While the UFU has concerns about various Alliance policy positions, especially around its opposition to badger culling and desire for an independent environmental protection agency, it does have a strong European focus that has been lacking in our politics, said Kinnear.

He said the reality for farmers is that it is vital that we have continued access to the EU single market and that means we will have to abide by their rules.

But with every major EU law can come multiple pieces of tertiary and supplementary legislation which must be tracked. “Be under no illusion about the scale and complexity of the challenge there is,” said Kinnear.


He also warned about the danger of divergence between NI and Britain and said the UFU still wants to see a veterinary agreement put in place between the UK and EU to help prevent that divergence into the future.

On the Windsor Framework agreement and subsequent ‘Safeguarding the Union’ command paper from the UK government, Kinnear said the UFU had supported both, but there are still issues to be resolved. Those issues include a grace period for the movement of veterinary medicines which runs out at the end of 2025 and rules around importing of second-hand machinery from Britain to NI.


Outside of movement restrictions due to the recent outbreak of bluetongue in England, there remain significant barriers for anyone bringing livestock back to NI from a show or sale in Britain. Despite some “clever wording” in the command paper which would make you think a new arrangement has been secured, livestock must still go through an export-approved sale or face six months on farm.

“The bluetongue situation has thrown a ‘spanner in the works’ in terms of our lobbying about livestock movements,” confirmed Kinnear.

‘Solo run’

Many farmers have expressed concern that new DAERA Minister Andrew Muir will pursue a ‘green’ agenda, but it is one thing to have a long list of priorities in opposition, but a different approach might be required in the middle of government, said Kinnear.

He also pointed out that there are a number of “safety nets” in place that prevent any minister going off on “solo runs”.

Other parties in the Stormont Executive can block proposals that cut across departments, while legislation must get past all MLAs and there is also the Stormont agriculture committee scrutinising the work of DAERA.

However, he warned that each Stormont election seems to bring fewer MLAs with any agriculture or rural background. That was evident during the last mandate when the majority of MLAs rejected the best scientific advice and the lobbying efforts of the UFU, and decided to put in place a net zero greenhouse gas target for 2050.

“We thought we had allies with some people, when we clearly didn’t,” said Kinnear.

‘Cobbled together’

When asked about the subsequent climate change legislation, UFU President David Brown said it was “cobbled together” and “bit by bit” there is a realisation among local politicians of the implications on all of society. “So long as the pinpoint is at agriculture, the general public are not particularly concerned, but that will change,” he said.

During his remarks, the UFU President was also asked about his meeting with Minister Muir earlier last week. Responding, Brown said the UFU leadership was “impressed” by how the minister had got up-to-speed on his brief.

“He said to us: ‘Judge me by my actions’ and I’m sure the farming public will do just that,” said Brown.