Irish Independent - Farming - - ANALYSIS - ON POL­I­TICS

THE Ul­ster Farmers’ Union, in some ways the IFA’s coun­ter­part north of the bor­der, is at a very se­ri­ous cross­roads amid this on­go­ing Brexit cri­sis.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion has been on the go since 1918 and its stated aim is to rep­re­sent farmers, with al­most 12,000 farmers across North­ern Ire­land.

But given the his­tory of the North, it was widely per­ceived as “cul­tur­ally union­ist” and was of­ten seen as closely in­ter­wo­ven with the old Ul­ster Union­ist Party (UUP).

There are now un­doubt­edly links into the Demo­cratic Union­ist Party (DUP), which has to­tally eclipsed the UUP over the last 15 years. But the DUP is still a rel­a­tively new en­tity and links with the Ul­ster Farmers’ Union are not as easy or ref lex­ive as the old days of “UUP-UFU.”

We must state that the UFU has for a long time for­mally in­sisted it had no links to any po­lit­i­cal party, and that the or­gan­i­sa­tion main­tained con­tacts across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum to do its job.

Last week UFU pres­i­dent Ivor Fer­gu­son, who is based in Mar­kethill, Co Ar­magh, de­nounced re­ports sug­gest­ing Brexit strains with the DUP-UFU, mak­ing the point that the his farmers’ union re­mains in­de­pen­dent in pol­i­tics.

But there is a clear rift be­tween the DUP and the UFU over Brexit.

The UFU, in com­mon with many North­ern busi­ness rep­re­sen­ta­tives, be­lieves that Theresa May’s deal should be sup­ported on grounds that the risk of a no-deal Brexit is un­think­able.

Through­out the short Brexit ref­er­en­dum cam­paign of late 2015 and up to polling day on June 23, 2016, the UFU sur­prised many in the Repub­lic by sit­ting on the fence.

Many of us in this juris­dic­tion would have said a North­ern farmer knows the value of a pound and was aware that 88pc of North­ern Ire­land farm in­come comes from di­rect Brus­sels pay­ments.

In the end the UFU, in a po­si­tion sim­i­lar to the Na­tional Farmers’ Union, which rep­re­sents farmers in Eng­land and Wales, opted to not cam­paign and not di­rectly ad­vise its mem­bers on which way to vote.

They con­fined them­selves to the rather equiv­o­cal state­ment that they re­mained to be con­vinced that there was a good case for the UK leav­ing the EU.

Their non-com­mit­tal ref­er­en­dum stance was sur­pris­ing given the long­stand­ing at­ti­tude within the UFU that it was in the in­ter­est of farmers in the North to “have a lit­tle of UK and a lit­tle bit of EU”.

Go­ing back to the mid1990s, the UFU moved might and main to have North­ern Ire­land cat­tle ex­empted from the EU’s ban on UK cat­tle due to the BSE cri­sis.

It has to be re­called that the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment and the IFA ex­tended a hand of friend­ship to the UFU in that mat­ter.

Then IFA pres­i­dent, John Don­nelly, and their Brus­sels rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Michael Treacy, were ex­tremely gen­er­ous in giv­ing moral and prac­ti­cal sup­port to North­ern Ire­land farmers.

The out­come strength­ened a sen­si­ble is­land-of-Ire­land an­i­mal health regime which was fur­ther en­hanced af­ter the 2001 foot and mouth cri­sis.

That is among a list of things which makes a non­sense of DUP claims that the North must not be treated dif­fer­ently on Brexit.


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