April 12 In the Press

Farm groups support motion to stay in EU as ICTU lobby for workers’ interests

By Eleanor McGillie

FARMERS in Northern Ireland are battling a corporate onslaught and are being forced to succumb to increasing corporate pressures on a daily basis says the co-ordinator of Northern Ireland Farm Groups.

William Taylor was speaking about his support for a motion which was raised today (Tuesday) at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ (ICTU) Biennial Delegate Conference (April 11, 2016) which calls for ICTU to urge workers to vote in the referendum to remain in the EU.

The conference, which is taking place at the Derry City Hotel today and tomorrow, heard delegates, who are representing 215,000 members, support a motion to stay in the EU which the ICTU says will protect thousands of jobs in Northern Ireland.

Speaking during the conference, Peter Bunting, assistant General Secretary of the ICTU, said if Northern Ireland has a chance of growing its economy its members must vote ‘Yes’ in the up and coming referendum.

Mr Bunting said: “It is critical that farmers and the business community work in tandem to ensure we maximise the ‘Yes’ vote in the up and coming referendum. This will ensure that Northern Ireland has a chance of growing its economy because it will only happen if we are in Europe.”

Supporting the view of the ICTU, Mr Taylor, from Coleraine, said protecting jobs and bringing farming back into profitability, is vital and staying in the EU will provide farmers with a legal framework for legislation on farm gate prices. He added this would return farmers a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked for their produce across the staples, providing them with a financial safety net.

This legal framework is not being offered to date by Westminster or the ‘No’ camp.

He said: “About 60 per cent of our farmers in Northern Ireland are part time farmers. Many of them are also doctors, nurses, paramedics among many other occupations. Many of these farmers would go back to their farms, into full time agriculture, if profitability was reinstated which would create new job vacancies for others across the spectrum.

“The remaining 40 per cent are full time farmers who are crying out to employ professional staff if only they could afford them.  Farmers with money in their pockets buy from, on average, 123 different suppliers. Farmers are large buyers of steel products, case in point – if 300,000 farmers across the UK were being properly rewarded for their work they would purchase on average five to 10 tonnes of steel per annum per farm.  This would equate to 25 per cent of the steel purchased at Port Talbot. It would then take a lot more Michelin lorry tyres to deliver this steel and many other deliveries to prosperous farms.

“Two decades of increasing financial buying power by the large corporate food retailers, large corporate food wholesalers and, to a lesser extent, the processors, has been bearing down on family farmers which has resulted in over 25 per cent of UK family farmers living below the poverty line. This is based on 2012 figures after this Government closed down this statistics department but figures estimated to be much worse today.”

Mr Taylor said the Stormont government needs to intervene and force food buyers to pay at least a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked across the staples because the devastating effect of low farmgate prices in the country is actually now a huge human welfare issue. All of this is contained in the January 2016 Gosling Report and supported by the non-optional blue print for rural Northern Ireland.

He said in Northern Ireland, Farmers For Action (FFA) and Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NIAPA), as members of Northern Ireland Farm Groups, have spent two years putting the case for legislation on farm gate prices to the Minister and the Agriculture Committee in Stormont.

“Legislation on farm gate prices is a can-do for Stormont, it would represent a first anywhere across Europe and drag Northern Ireland out of recession very quickly as agriculture is Northern Ireland’s largest industry,” he said. “This issue will really test the mettle of our politicians and is legal all the way to Brussels.”

He continued: “FFA and NIAPA are set to make this a big election issue with 20,000 plus new jobs and a £280million in savings in welfare resulting prosperity across Northern Ireland possible.”

The Northern Ireland Farm Groups co-ordinator said this idea came from Roosevelt’s New Deal to bring the USA out of the 1930’s depression.  The principal proved by Roosevelt’s later modified New Deal lead the next President Harry Truman to state: ‘Prosperous farmers make for a prosperous nation and when farmers are in trouble the nation is in trouble’.

 

ENDS:

NOTES TO EDITOR:

  • Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is the single umbrella organisations for trade unions on the island of Ireland. Congress is the largest civil society organisation in Ireland. It is the apex body representing 750,000 workers affiliated through 64 trade unions in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The organisation is required, through its mission statement, to strive to achieve economic development, social cohesion and justice by upholding the values of solidarity, fairness and equality.
  • The Northern Ireland Committee (NIC) of the ICTU is the representative body for 34 trade unions with over 215,000 members across Northern Ireland. In membership terms it is the largest civil society organisation in Northern Ireland. Information on the NIC is available on www.ictuni.org
  • For further information please contact Eleanor McGillie from MGMPR Ltd on 07709805379 or John O’Farrell, Communications Officer on 07808582546
  • Photography by Kevin Cooper
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