2nd July 2003
Ferris Queries Department of Agriculture Statement of Strategy
Speaking at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food this afternoon, the Sinn Fein Spokesperson on Agriculture Martin Ferris TD questioned the commitment of the Government to implementing the Department's strategy in the light of current cutbacks and delays. Deputy Ferris also referred to the manner in which the strategy will have to be tailored to fit with the reform of the CAP, and to hold-ups in developing an all Ireland approach to the problems facing Irish farmers.
Deputy Ferris said: ``The context in which the Department's strategy will be implemented has been radically altered by last week's agreement on CAP reform. It is my belief that the Department has been presented with an opportunity to devise a much more dynamic approach to the future of Irish farming on the basis of the reform package, and particularly decoupling.
``I note the reiteration in the vision statement of the goal of sustaining the maximum number of farm families and rural households and it is my belief that that can be achieved and a halt placed on the erosion of farm incomes and the flight from the land. That can be done through a combination of guaranteeing farm households a basic income through a decoupled single payment and by implementing a radical programme aimed at maximising the potential of Irish agriculture geared to high quality production and home based processing. I hope therefore that Minister Walsh will take this route in implementing what was agreed at Luxembourg last week.
``I also hope that the Minister will include the ICSA in the negotiations on the implementation of the reforms. The ICSA was the most active of all the farming organisations in the debate on the Fischler proposals and the outcome to date has been closest to what the ICSA recommended. Therefore, that group must be included alongside the other representative organisations.
``While the Statement is full of laudable aims, I would question the commitment of the Government to their implementation. For example, there are many references here to the role of Teagasc in furthering research and education within the farming sector and yet we have already witnessed the closure of a number of important Teagasc facilities with more threatened. I will refer only to Ballinamore as one example. The research being carried out there was vital for the development of effective systems for disadvantaged areas but that work will now have to cease. Likewise, Ballinamore could play a crucial role in the development of cross border co-operation that would also benefit farmers in Fermanagh, Armagh and Tyrone.
``I am pleased to note the continued commitment to enhancing north south co-operation on agriculture through the Ministerial Council but as I have already said, that commitment is called into question by events such as the closure of Ballinamore. I would also like to have more information on the actual practical steps that have been taken to further that co-operation.
``I have placed a number of questions in the Dáil with regard to co-operation on animal health for example, but progress appears to be extremely slow. According to information supplied by the Minister there are nine inter-departmental groups involving over 100 officials from both departments and they have been given a wide ranging brief covering all aspects of animal health and disease prevention.
``The last substantial update we have dates back to the September 2002 meeting of the North South Ministerial Council which approved a progress report on animal health. The Report, however, contains no definite deadlines for the implementation of any of its objectives. But even so, in a reply to a question I placed to the Minister in May, he admitted that there has been slippage in attaining the deadlines. What I would like to stress here, therefore, is the importance of ensuring that the work is brought to completion at the earliest possible date, and that the two Departments extend the remit of the area of co-operation.
``For example, the strategy statement also refers to all Ireland liaison on the Common Agricultural Policy. That would certainly be of great value at the present time. I am also aware of numerous difficulties regarding the implementation of cross border programmes, especially within the Six Counties and this is something that also requires urgent attention.'' ENDS.
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