Minister's Speech - Balmoral Show

Date published: 16 May 2024

Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests, colleagues and friends – good morning and welcome.


I’m delighted to be addressing you in my role as DAERA Minister after just over 100 days in office.

At the outset, I want to express my thanks and gratitude to the countless people in Northern Ireland’s farming community for the warm welcome and kindness offered to me to date.

I’d also like to thank the RUAS and indeed everyone who has played a part in the preparations for this 155th Anniversary of the show.

The Balmoral Show is not just an institution in its own right but a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the food we produce, the farming, fishing and food businesses that produce it and the rural and coastal communities that are such a key part of the fabric of Northern Ireland.

I’d defy anyone to walk through the food pavilion and not exit it bursting with pride not just at the wonderful range and quality of the food products that are on show but also at the innovative and entrepreneurial approaches that are just as much a hallmark of our sector.

And all this of course is only possible because of the many great examples of good farming and fishing practice that exist across every part of Northern Ireland.

I’ve been privileged to see first hand since taking up my role as Minister, examples which I am determined to profile and showcase.

So this is a moment for pride, for celebration. 

And it’s also important that we harness that same passion and pride as we work together to address the challenges that lie ahead.

Future Vision

As Minister, I have a very clear vision for the future of our farming and fishing businesses and I was able to set some of this out on Tuesday in the Assembly.

I will not repeat everything I said in the chamber but I do want to assure you of my unstinting commitment to working in partnership with all of you and with so many others to deliver for our environment, our economy and our rural, farming and fishing communities.

I also want particularly to thank both officials and relevant stakeholders for their commitment to working in partnership in the co-design of the Farm Support and Development Programme, especially in the absence of Ministers.

The principles of co-design, partnership working and effective communication are key as it’s introduced in a phased manner over the coming months and years.

That’s an approach that is also being taken as my Department has worked with so many others to develop a new Northern Ireland Food Strategy Framework.

A fresh and strategic collaborative approach to food that will help to improve economic, environmental, health and social outcomes for Northern Ireland.  Work is very well advanced and I am hoping to discuss it with Executive colleagues soon.

Turning to our environment, I have consistently put on the record that we need to call time on the idea that support for the environment and for agriculture are mutually exclusive concepts.

That’s not only a nonsense – but it also does a real injustice to the many positive examples of great farming practice across Northern Ireland, practice being carried out by people who are not only knowledgeable but also passionate about the wellbeing of the land they look after.

In my address in the Assembly on Tuesday, I also highlighted the importance of building resilience in our sector. 

That’s why tackling climate change is one of my key priorities. It is difficult to ignore what we see in front of us with the severe weather patterns experienced this year alone - some of our towns, villages, communities, businesses severely impacted.

We must act now. And we must act together, this is not solely the responsibility of my department – all departments, the wider public sector, businesses and wider society have a part to play.

The impact of climate change is particularly acute for agriculture with, for example, extreme weather having a prolonged effect.  It also presents real challenges for our fishing communities.

Achieving improved environmental sustainability is also critical.  None of us wants the situation on Lough Neagh to continue.

We all know we need to do things differently going forward.   

The law now requires us to have an Environmental Improvement Plan capable of driving significant improvement to our natural environment.

I am determined we will make change not just because the law requires it but because it is the right thing to do.

For that reason, I am keen to move at pace to address ammonia and phosphorus related issues and to take enabling actions which protect and enhance our natural and marine environment so that we can look the next generation of the eye and say that we truly did all we could to improve water and air quality, soil health and biodiversity.

An environmentally sustainable agri-food and fishing industry is crucial if we are to improve water quality across Northern Ireland and secure the recovery of Lough Neagh.

I also believe it is possible to deliver environmental improvements and to support more sustainable productivity, building on our international reputation for excellence in
food production and food safety, ensuring effective functioning supply chains.

I strongly believe that we can do this in a way that safeguards food security and delivers high standards of disease control, public and animal health. 

Recognising that the health of our people is closely connected to the health of animals and of our environment, I want to see all our policies underpinned by the One Health approach.

And I want to see all our policies and our funding models underpinned by a commitment to a genuinely just transition.

I am building a detailed case for future earmarked funding for agriculture, rural and fisheries in conjunction with the Finance Minister and she and I have already discussed the importance of ensuring that the next funding package meets the needs of our environment and our farming and fishing businesses, including in relation to our climate, and ensures the just transition I spoke about earlier.

As Minister, I intend to work tirelessly across the entire remit of my Department with the agri-food sector and others, so that Northern Ireland can become an exemplar in achieving thriving, sustainable and resilient agri-food and fishing sectors, a healthy, nature rich environment, leading on climate change mitigation and adaptation. 

This will all be characterised by a determination to be innovative and to use science and technology effectively, harnessing solutions that not only address our own challenges but that can be adopted and adapted by others.

Our young people have a key role to play in realising this vision.

We must encourage the younger generation to get involved and support new talent. On many occasions over the past number of months I have heard great praise for the work at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise – CAFRE in educating those coming into the sector and those managing our farm businesses.

Turning to support for our rural communities, there is also much work underway.  

My Department is pleased to be partnering with various Departments in Ireland and the Special EU Programmes Body to take forward five PEACEPLUS investment areas which will see funding of 165.8 m euros being invested in strategic projects until 2029.

My Department is also supporting the Department of Finance and our counterparts in the Republic of Ireland and the Special EU Programmes Body to develop plans to invest funds to air quality projects under Investment Area 6.1 Strategic Planning and Engagement.

The Tackling Rural Poverty and Social Isolation programme has remained a priority for my Department since it was introduced in 2008. Under the 2016 TRPSI Framework, DAERA has invested some £48m to date.

Rural Northern Ireland is integral to our economic, social, and environmental well-being and development. The way ahead for rural policy is another of my key considerations. 

My department will play its part in building stronger, connected, resilient and prosperous rural communities where people want to live, work, visit and invest.

However, it is important to note that responsibility does not rest solely with my department. All public authorities have a duty to have due regard to the social and economic needs of people in rural areas when developing and delivering their services.

The department continues to provide support to public authorities to help ensure that the Rural Needs Act is implemented effectively and delivers better outcomes for rural dwellers. 

Finally I want to say a bit more about our work to address disease control, public and animal health.

I am acutely aware, as you will be also, that Bovine Tuberculosis is one of the most challenging issues facing us.

With herd incidence currently at just under 10%, one farm in ten has experienced the difficulties associated with a new TB breakdown in the past year - and I have already heard directly from some of you, the devastating impact this is having.

We need to find a better way forward and, with the support of Brian Dooher, our new CVO who is with me today, I am determined that we will.

As I spoke about earlier this week it is however important UK Government swiftly acts to address issues around Windsor Framework Implementation Regulations.

Of course, bTB is not the only challenge we face and we will continue our efforts to prevent and eradicate other diseases including BVD and, working in partnership with Minister Swann and his team, to address the particular challenges associated with anti-microbial resistance.

In closing, I want to genuinely and sincerely state that I appreciate the significance of the challenges facing businesses operating in the agri-food and fishing sectors.

It is clear that these challenges lie ahead for us all. We must act now. It is my view that maintaining the status quo for any business is no longer a viable business option. No-one wants to be left behind.

I understand that you will be looking to me and my Department for the policy, support, decisions and most importantly leadership required to deal with these challenges in a manner that strikes an appropriate balance across food production and environmental management.

There is much for us all to do, and the most effective way for us all to move forward is through collaboration. 

There is also so much to celebrate, Northern Ireland is successful on many fronts, we should not underestimate how far we’ve come and how many people look to us as exemplars for good practice.

The Balmoral Show is perfect place to showcase them and that’s why I love being here.

I would like to wish you an enjoyable day at the Show and I wish the RUAS a very successful Balmoral Show over the next few days.

Thank you.


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