DUP and Sinn Fein councillors traded verbal blows during Tuesday night’s Council meeting after a Sinn Fein councillor called out former DUP ministers for abandoning the Areas of Natural Constraints (ANC) scheme which he believes is one of the reasons why local farmers are “under serious strain”.

The ANC scheme provided payments to farmers with eligible hectares of grassland in Severely Disadvantaged Areas such as Fermanagh. It compensated farmers with suckler cows and breeding sheep for additional costs incurred while operating in difficult circumstances.

Roughly around £20m was paid to 8,800 farm businesses in Northern Ireland annually.

DAERA (last Minister was DUP’s Michele McIlveen) decided to stop payments as they thought increases in Basic Farm Payments would make up the difference but this was disputed by the Ulster Farmers’ Union who want the ANC payments to be reinstated.

At the meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council on Tuesday, November 5, a motion was brought forward by Sinn Fein councillor Sheamus Greene highlighting the crisis in the beef farming industry due to unprecedented low farm gate prices and calling for the Council to “take a lead” by pro-actively promoting and sourcing local farm produce where possible.

After reading the motion, Councillor Greene added: “Our farmers have never before faced such a threat to their livelihood from world markets such as the USA and Brazil and from the potentially disastrous effects of Brexit.”

Seconding the motion, Sinn Fein Councillor Anthony Feely said: “In recent years our farmers have come under serious strain whether it be from former DUP agriculture ministers who abandoned the ANC payments which were a lifeblood to farmers.”

In response to this, Democratic Unionist Councillor Mark Buchanan stated that he didn’t believe there was any need to run down previous ministers.

“This is a motion that I would like to support and I will be supporting but there are ways to go about it without running down previous ministers.” He continued: “We support the farmers and the produce that they do produce but I challenge this chamber tonight, isn’t it better to have local ministers in government that we can lobby and that we can work with? Isn’t it better that some of the parties here take their seats in Westminster and Stormont?

“The DUP will not be found wanting when it comes to delivering the best for our local farmers and their produce,” Councillor Buchanan added.

Showing support for the motion Ulster Unionist Councillor John McClaughery said: “It’s a severe hit on farmers when prices go up but they can’t put their prices up and they are dictated as to what they should accept. Farmers do not want handouts, they want a fair price for their product and that’s all they are asking for.”

SDLP Councillor Adam Gannon stated his support for the motion commenting that the subject of local produce also came up in the climate resilience group and that by buying local instead of buying goods that are exported from different countries, people can also help reduce their carbon footprint.

Independent Councillor Josephine Deehan stated: “It’s a shame that farmers, despite their hard work, constantly have to fight to earn a living. It’s fundamentally unjust.”

All councillors showed support for the motion.

Councillor Greene reiterated Councillor Feely’s comments. “I take it that Mark is a very good supporter of his local farming community, I have no doubt about that and some of his colleagues, but I have to say the DUP minister stopping the ANC payments was absolutely devastating for farmers.”