Northern Ireland

Stormont minister to decide farm payments

Image caption Northern Ireland's farmers will no longer receive subsidies from Brussels when the UK leaves the European Union

A decision on financial support for NI farmers after Brexit will be one for a future devolved minister, agriculture department officials have said.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said English farmers could expect subsidies at the current level until 2024.

Then, the system would switch from one based on farm size to one rewarding farmers for "public goods", such as biodiversity and water quality.

He was speaking at a major farming conference in Oxford.

Officials in Northern Ireland will study the speech but any decision on payments after a UK transition period ended "would be a matter for a minister", said a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs.

'Certainty about the future'

Ulster Farmers' Union President Barclay Bell welcomed Mr Gove's remarks, saying he wants to see a balance between the needs of food production and the environment.

"It is a critical time for the farming industry and the sooner we have a local agricultural minister back in there the better," he added.

The government had previously committed to payments for the lifetime of the current parliament, which is scheduled to run until 2022.

Since December 2017, 23,500 Northern Ireland farmers have been paid almost £280m in subsidies from the European Union.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann called for Northern Ireland officials to mirror the commitment made to English farmers.

He said he feared the absence of a local agriculture minister might delay that.

Sinn Féin said Mr Gove's comments would not allay farmers' concerns in Northern Ireland.

It said the announcement was "confusing and light on detail".

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