A DEBATE over a financial support package for the farming sector at a meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council this week descended into a series of accusations about religious discrimination.
The row erupted after correspondence was considered from the Department of Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs about a £25 million package being earmarked for the beef, dairy, sheep, potato and ornamental horticulture sectors.
But Sinn Fein councillor, Sheamus Green, said it was his view that the vast majority of farmers in these sectors to benefit were Protestant, and that the majority of Catholics who are hill farmers would be left with little of the funding.
“This is another completely biased attack on the hill farmers and it is absolutely disgraceful,” he said.
“That is what I am being told every day from farmers that this money is being allocated based on the demographics.”
His comment provoked an immediate response from Unionist members. The Chairman, Chris Smyth of the UUP, described the comment as a ‘very serious thing to say,’ while his party colleague, Bert Wilson went further still.
“I am a Protestant farmer and I am entitled to be a Protestant. I drove a school bus and I had 19 acres of land. It is not for anyone to say that if I am a Protestant then I am better off than anyone else,” he added.
There was then further acrimony when Cllr Wilson suggested that maybe his Sinn Fein colleague had not worked hard enough in his farming career, something which Cllr Greene described as a ‘scandalous’ statement.
Cllr Wilson also referred to the many young Protestant farmers who had been murdered.
Catherine Kelly, Mid-Tyrone Sinn Fein councillor, accused the Unionists of engaging in ‘sectarian dog whistling.’
Deborah Erskine of the DUP said it was frustrating that in 2020 the Council was still treating issues along ‘orange and green’ lines.