Governance is well recognised as shifting boundaries of responsibilities for doing things among key partners. What is less clear is how power relations are altered as new forms of governance emerge, and who becomes accountable in emerging relations. In our paper we use theories of governance to critically assess ‘Going for Growth’, a strategic action plan that, until the recent past, underpinned the Northern Ireland agri-food industry. The agri-food sector has an important and prominent role in the Northern Ireland economy. A strong lobby group supports the sector, and has the ear of government. Consequently, significant funding supports have been devised to help shore up the sector, including the Renewable Heat Initiative that led to the collapse of the power-sharing government in 2016. We argue that the Going for Growth strategy raises important ethical questions for society in Northern Ireland, not least because of its implications for the environment, but also, in an era of austerity, relating to the way in which public funds are spent. We show how the strategy is the manifestation of a clientelist relationship that has left little space in the public arena for meaningful debate. Given that it is now effectively ‘dead in the water’, we evaluate options for future strategies.