Farmers in west Tyrone who were affected by floods and landslides in August 2017 have praised the leadership of Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) for helping secure a £2.7m aid package.

At a meeting in Plumbridge on Saturday, Gortin farmer Graham Cooke said the UFU continued to press DAERA on the issue long after the unprecedented weather event had passed.

“We have to thank the UFU for all the lobbying and door banging that they had to do,” he said.

UFU president Victor Chestnutt told the meeting that the prospect of an aid package “seemed like a lost cause” at several points over the past four years.

The delay in rolling out an aid package stemmed from the three-year political stalemate at Stormont as a minister needed to be in place

He described the lack of financial support for the affected farmers as an “injustice” and said it was the top item on his agenda during meetings with senior DAERA officials and Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots.

The delay in rolling out an aid package stemmed from the three-year political stalemate at Stormont as a minister needed to be in place at DAERA to sign off funding.

By the time Edwin Poots took up the DAERA portfolio in January 2020, most of the affected farmers had completed recovery work at their own expense and an aid package was no longer deemed “value for money” by civil servants.

Direction

After visiting affected farmers in April 2021, Minister Poots eventually gave “ministerial direction” for the funding to be signed off.

This mechanism is required within government if a minister wants to proceed with a decision which goes against the advice of senior civil servants.

“The department made it a broad brush (area based) scheme, so some of you may have got too much and some of you did not get enough.

“There was also nothing in it for crop loss, but at least there was a scheme, and I was very pleased to tick it off my to-do list,” Victor Chestnutt said.

Local farmers who are not currently UFU members were also encouraged to join the union

As a show of appreciation, local farmers are being encouraged to give donations to Rural Support for the Life Beyond project, which is Chestnutt’s chosen charity for his tenure as UFU president.

Local farmers who are not currently UFU members were also encouraged to join the union.

“The UFU have supported us, now it’s time for us to support them,” said Graham Cooke.