South Tipperary farmers have had a chance to have their say at a public meeting hosted by local Fine Gael T.D. Tom Hayes.
There was huge attendance of 150 farmers at the Clonmel meeting which focused on the new Common Agricultural Policy reforms proposed by the EU, and the affect that these proposals may have on Irish farmers. Some of the guest speakers at the meeting included MEP Mairead McGuinness, IFA Deputy President Eddie Downey, and ICMSA Deputy President Pat McCormack.
In his opening remarks Deputy Hayes emphasised the important role agriculture plays in the Irish economy, and the need for the Government to do all in their power to help the industry grow even further. “Any changes to the CAP will have a substantial impact on hundreds of thousands of farmer’s right across the country, and thousands of farmers in Tipperary alone. The agri-sector accounts for around 7% of the total Irish workforce, that’s about 150,000 people.
“There are around 600 food and drinks company’s operating within the agriculture sector, exporting to over 140 markets worldwide. It is no wonder then that agriculture is seen as one of the key elements to this country’s economic recovery. As a result, this Government is committed to obtaining the best deal possible for the farming community, when it comes to these negotiations,” Deputy Hayes said.
The audience were then treated to a presentation by MEP Mairead McGuinness, who was recently appointed to lead the negotiations on reform of the CAP direct payments regime on behalf of the EPP, the European Parliament’s biggest political grouping. Ms. McGuinness described the current deal as not favourable for Ireland, referring to the proposals as the “most difficult set of reforms Europe has dealt with.”
The main issue Ms. McGuinness identified was the need for all EU countries to introduce a flat rate of payment by 2019, something she believed would be very disruptive to Irish farmers. She said that her goal over the next 12 months was to maintain agriculture’s current share of the EU budget, as well as emphasising the difficulty Ireland would have in adapting this new payment system by 2019.
Both representatives from the IFA and ICMSA thanked Deputy Hayes and MEP McGuinness for their work on this issue, but they also outlined a number of their own concerns about the upcoming negotiations. For his part, Eddie Downey of the IFA stated the need for Europe to focus its reforms on increased production. Mr. Downey pointed to the rapidly increasing world population, and that Europe needed to boost its own food production to capitalise on the expanding global market. The proposed “flat-rate payment,” he said, would do nothing to “encourage increased production.” Mr. Downey believes this would leave Europe in a very vulnerable place. He promised to work with all parties concerned to cut the best deal possible for Irish farmers. “My job is to protect your payments, I intend to do that.”
Pat McCormack of the ICMSA agreed with Mr. Downey, saying that while the current scheme encouraged “active farming,” the new scheme did not. He also stated that more focus was needed on the amount of funding Ireland will receive in the area of rural development, saying this fund was vital to thousands of Irish farmers, particularly in the west of the country.
Mr. McCormack did however believe that Ireland was in a strong position to bring about changes to the current proposals, referring to Ireland’s EU Presidency in early 2013. “Minister Coveney is in the right place at the right time for Ireland…because Irish agriculture without a strong CAP leaves us in a weak place,” stated Mr. McCormack.
In closing Deputy Hayes stated that “we all have a common interest in agriculture,”, and that by working together, “we can protect rural Ireland, and protect Irish farmers.”