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Live Reporting

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for today

    The first ever meeting of the emergency ad-hoc committee certainly raised some interesting issues.

    We'll be back at 09:45 in the morning for a meeting of the Education Committee when members will be briefed on the latest developments regarding the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on schools.

    Do join us then. In the meantime, keep safe and have a great evening.

  2. 'NI plays its role way beyond it's own shores'

    Gerry Carroll

    People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll says "global food production will be severely affected by this crisis" and asks the minister about food distribution to prevent food shortages at the end of the crisis.

    Mr Poots says "Northern Ireland plays its role way beyond it's own shores" in terms of food production.

    He says the majority of "our sales is powdered milk, cheeses and that is exported" which means "we are more vulnerable to export market".

    As a result, he says, "therein lies a problem to the dairy sector".

  3. Potential problems in pork and poultry sectors

    Claire Bailey of the Green Party asks about access to recycling centres and agricultural waste.

    What's being done to ensure excess agricultural waste doesn't get into rivers, for instance?

    Mr Poots says at the moment the production can be put in cold stores for sale, and that is a business problem rather than an agricultural one

    Claire Bailey

    The minister says that if the chicken and pork producers hit problems there could be major environmental consequence.

    He cites the issues that could arise if pigs could not be slaughtered in factories and were to be slaughtered on farms.

    He says the department is working to prepared contingency plans to deal with this.

    "Maintaining those processing units is something which is critical," the minister concludes.

  4. 'Those were the days'

    The UUP's Mike Nesbitt asks the minister about data gathering and fishing stocks while fishermen are not out at sea.

    He also commends the work of bin collectors and discloses to members that he was a bin collector in his younger days.

    Mr Poots says he has something in common with the UUP MLA, as he too was a bin man - in fact it was his first job when he was 16.

    “Those were the days,” says the minister.

    Mike Nesbitt

    Back to the questions and Mr Poots outlines some of the data already collected around social distancing impacts.

    He says "before this took place, every person who had coronavirus was spreading" the disease to a number of people, but that "as a result of social distancing we’re on -1".

    "That number is coming down all of the time," says the minister, due to social distancing measures.

    He adds that "the means of coming out of social distancing is having appropriate testing".

    He says that if the crisis does however get "bad enough, we can offer the assistance of our veterinarians in hospitals," as they are "experts in ventilation".

    He explains this would be in the instance that staffing levels were struggling.

    In terms of fishing stock, Mr Poots says there is a rich supply of prawns and haddock.

  5. Single farm payments deadline

    Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd asks about the deadline for single farm payments coming up on 15 May.

    Is there an opportunity to extend the deadline?

    John O'Dowd

    The minister says 6,500 farmers have already lodged their single farm payment applications, out of a total of 23,000.

    He says the department has offered some flexibility to farmers who can make changes to their applications after they send them in, but the department does not really want to extend the deadline.

  6. 'Spot price of milk has fallen dramatically'

    The DUP's Gordon Dunne asks the minister about the "reduction in the farm gate price in milk".

    Mr Poots says the "spot price of milk has fallen dramatically" and is around 15p per litre.

    He says "next month that will be reflected to farmers" but he reassures MLAs "it will not be as low as 15p, thankfully, but we’re looking at how we can support farmers".

    Gordon Dunne

    He says some of the dairy problems have come about as a result of the "restaurant trade disappearing".

    He also says companies like "Lakeland Dairies supply milk to aeroplane companies".

    "They have to readapt and change their processing lines and find other markets," he says.

    "We're facing real critical difficulties and the one sector in agriculture which has large debts is the dairy sector."

    He adds it will "cause real problems if the milk cost drops off the cliff".

  7. Fishing industry facing 'real problems and hardships'

    The Alliance Party's Kellie Armstrong raises concerns about those working in the fishing industry who are self employed and will be "reliant on the government self-support scheme" that "will take some time to come through".

    The minister says the local fishing industry has been supported by crews from other countries in recent years, and that they "are not labourers" but rather "skilled fishermen and need to be recognised as skilled fishermen coming in".

    He says the situation is "causing real problems and hardships" and that his department is "trying to seek solutions to it".

    Kellie Armstrong

    Mr Poots says he understands a number of boats are due to go out later this week but that "what they are getting for their product is down".

    He says that "fuel costs are down, but it doesn't compensate for what the fish is down".

    He adds: "I don't see what's been offered as some magic bullet for the fishing industry."

  8. Rural broadband and social isolation

    Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson asks about collaborative work with the Minister for the Economy, Diane Dodds, on rural broadband.

    She asks with reference to social isolation in rural areas.

    Ms Anderson says some people have difficulty in accessing the apps - "many of us are using to keep in contact with friends and family".

    Likewise, she says there are people who are unable to work from home at this time because of poor broadband.

    Martina Anderson

    The minister says his party secured £150m for rural broadband.

    "A lot of that spend would be in Fermanagh and Tyrone," he says.

    "We're not going to have it delivered for the end of this crisis," he adds.

  9. Increasing grocery costs

    The DUP's Paul Givan asks the minister what steps he is taking to deal with supermarkets "in respect of the supply chain to encourage them to support local".

    He says he has heard from constituents that prices are being increased on "some of the core basic materials going into people's baskets".

    Paul Givan

    Mr Poots says this should not be the case "unless there is a particular reasons that a good has to be raised in price, that it is costing them more and they have to pass it on".

    He says it is important that the "public at home aren't paying more for a service and goods, unless there is justification for it".

  10. 'I'm a former butcher myself'

    The UUP's Robbie Butler asks about the position of small shops.

    "I'm a former butcher myself," he says, adding that he is passionate about butchers' shops and buying local.

    He wants to know if the minister would support a minimum price guarantee on agri-food products in supermarkets.

    Robbie Butler

    Mr Poots says we are now suffering because of globalisation, and the number of people travelling around the world has also allowed the virus to travel around the world.

    "I'm not sure how legitimately we can have minimum food prices," he adds.

  11. Local businesses always there when 'tough gets going'

    Matthew O'Toole of the SDLP asks the minister what the department can do to help local businesses to help promote their produce and whether they would consider an online portal.

    Mr Poots says he keeps track of local producers through online forums and social media pages.

    He says that he hopes there can be one good thing that comes out of this crisis and that it is greater support for local businesses.

    Matthew O'Toole

    "When the going gets tough, they’re the people that are always there," he says.

    "It would be great to see a revival in local bakeries, greengrocers," he adds.

    "It's been sad to lose them over the years," adding that people will "maybe spend a pound or two more to sustain them".

  12. Department would need £100m crisis funding

    Colm Gildernew of Sinn Féin asks the minister if there "are there plans to put in place crisis funding for farming".

    Mr Poots replies that he has "written to Department of Finance at this stage".

    He says "our needs, we identified at over £100m in terms of dealing with the areas in this department which need assistance".

    He says, "that is almost too significant for the Northern Ireland budget to deal with and the Northern Ireland government to deal with".

    Colm Gildernew

    As a result he says "we are looking to the UK government and indeed to Brussels at this point to see what can be delivered".

    "We believe this is not a Northern Ireland problem, this is a global problem, therefore we need to work within the parameters that exist," he says.

    "Another area I have been looking at is banking.

    "For some people this isn't a business problem, its a cash flow problem."

  13. Support for the fishing industry

    Sinn Féin's Phili McGuigan asks about the scheme to provide support for the fishing industry.

    The minister says some legislation has to go through the assembly before it gets under way.

    "With the best will in the world I think the earliest we can get the payments out will be in early May," Mr Poots says.

    Keith Buchanan

    The DUP's Keith Buchanan asks about the temporary closure of waste facilities and the problem of fly-tipping.

    Mr Poots says,"it's never OK to leave your waste at the side of the road".

    He says he is prepared to work with local councils about increasing the penalties for fly-tipping.

  14. People 'dependent on food in shops to live'

    The DUP's Harry Harvey asks the minister what cooperation he has had with his counterparts across the UK.

    Mr Poots he has spoken to his "Scottish and Welsh counterparts on farming and fisheries".

    Edwin Poots

    "People need to realise how critically important it is that we keep this going," he says adding that while "our first priority is to support our health service," people are "dependent on food in shops to live".

    "We have to keep that food chain going," he adds.

    Mr Poots says: "It goes beyond this assembly, beyond Northern Ireland, beyond the UK, beyond Ireland, beyond these islands, it’s right throughout the world."

  15. Food deliveries to the vulnerable

    John Blair of Alliance asks about the delivery of food to the vulnerable and priority of access to deliveries from supermarkets.

    There is a scheme operating in England and Mr Blair want to know if a similar scheme can be implemented in Northern Ireland.

    John Blair

    Mr Poots says he's aware of the scheme.

    He says that supermarkets such as Asda are willing to get involved but "they need help and support to do it".

    He says the matter falls under the Department for Communities but if his department can help in any way it will do so.

  16. Farming TB tests

    Rosemary Barton

    The UUP's Rosemary Barton asks the minister about TB testing on farms.

    She asks if farmers can have "the test carried out if they can comply with social distancing".

    Mr Poots replies that the test is "usually carried out by private veterinary practices".

    He says a "vet can do it, if the vet wishes to do it" but adds that the "farmer needs to assure the vet that" social distancing rules would be adhered to.

  17. 'Waste collectors taken for granted'

    Pat Catney of the SDLP says he understands the minister has a family member who is unwell, and he wishes them a speedy recovery.

    He then asks about support for waste management and if the department will assist council's to deal with increased household waste.

    Mr Poots thanks Mr Catney for his comments.

    He says many people "take our waste collectors for granted".

    He says he is "aware of additional strains on councils, so we will work with them" and "right across the board" to "provide apprioritate financial assistance".

    Pat Catney
  18. The EU should 'get on the ball'

    The DUP William Irwin asks what support, if any, the EU has provided to the agri-food sector given that the UK is still in the transitional stage of Brexit.

    The minister says the department is still under EU regulations regarding support for agriculture until October.

    He says the advice he has is that the EU "have an awful habit of waiting until the crisis has already happened".

    "We need to be moving now," says Mr Poots, and he calls for the EU "to get on the ball".

    Edwin Poots
  19. 'Some heroes drive tractors'

    Sinn Féin's Declan McAleer chairs the Agriculture Committee.

    He says he recently read in one of the farming papers that: "Not all heroes wear capes, some of them drive tractors."

    Mr McAleer asks about local marts and the trading of livestock.

    These have been closed but it causes problems in the wider supply chain.

    Does the minister have any ideas on how livestock trading could continue in a non-contact form?

    Declan McAleer

    Mr Poots says he knows the marts are considering how they can operate when they open again.

    He says that one idea is that "the seller leaves his livestock off and leaves the mart, the mart is restricted exclusively to buyers and social distancing will operate in the ring where sale will take place".

  20. 'We've never witnessed a crisis like this before'

    Mr Poots says he will be holding meetings with those working in the red meat sector this week.

    He adds that "markets are extremely fragile" with "significant fall in markets" taking place.

    The minister adds that he has had "regular discussions with ministers across the UK" and reassures MLAs "these issues are not particular to NI, the UK or the EU, but globally".

    He adds: "We’ve never witnessed a crisis like this before."

    Edwin Poots

    Mr Poots says face-to-face teaching at CAFRE has stopped and all education is being "delivered remotely" to students.

    "Those applying to CAFRE courses should apply as normal," he adds.

    In conclusion, Mr Poots says "we’ve had to deliver at pace take, and make rapid decisions to protect the economy, environment and people".

    He says decisions have been "made with the best intentions," adding, "we will continue to review and adapt actions".