After two years of political limbo, the restoration of the devolved government in Northern Ireland has been widely welcomed. The walkout by the Democratic Unionist Party from the power-sharing agreement, in protest at post- Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland, had meant that for two years, civil servants were holding the fort, implementing policies that couldn’t be updated or take changing circumstances into account.

Andrew Muir (pictured above with DAERA permanent secretary Katrina Godfrey) of the Alliance Party was confirmed as Northern Ireland’s new agriculture, environment and rural affairs minister on 3 February. He issued an early statement, saying: “DAERA plays a crucial role in supporting our rural communities.

“I plan to focus on the full remit of the department, seeking to implement policies and strategies that benefit our climate and environment, while supporting our economically and socially significant agriculture, food and fisheries sectors alongside our important rural communities.

“I intend to listen to, engage and strive to work with stakeholders and partners in every part of Northern Ireland including north/south, and east and west. Together, we can achieve a lot.”

One early priority, he said, would be addressing the environmental disaster that unfolded in Lough Neagh in the summer of 2023, when harmful algal blooms threatened health, and also saw the closure of the UK’s only large-scale commercial freshwater fisheries, for eels, pike and perch.

Andrew Muir continued: “I also want to reassure our farming and fishing communities of my commitment to working with them as they take the steps needed to reduce their carbon footprint, and supporting them to enhance the natural and marine environment that I know they care so deeply about.”

Brian Chambers of the Anglo North Irish FPO told Fishing News: “ANIFPO and NIFPO have already sent Minister Muir a joint letter, requesting a quick initial meeting with the Northern Ireland fishing industry, where we can jointly set out the most pressing issues that require his attention.

“We know he hasn’t the power to fix the ongoing issue we have with the skilled worker visas, but we do hope that he will be a powerful voice for us on this issue. After putting in huge efforts developing English classes for our international crew, setting up as sponsors, and transitioning to the skilled worker visas for our crew, the new minimum rate set, at £38,700, is just too high to be viable for many of our vessels.”

Harry Wick of the Northern Ireland FPO said: “NIFPO welcomes our new DAERA minister into his post, and we look forward to him rapidly addressing a range of issues, not least ensuring Northern Irish fisheries funding is brought back online without further delay.

“We would also welcome rapid adoption of the industry’s proposals to protect crab stocks, and look forward to hearing the detail on his plans to promote economic resilience and financial sustainability.”

By Andy Read, Editor, Fishing News

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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