21st May 2003
Sinn Fein Supports CAP Reforms
The Sinn Fein spokespersons on Agriculture and Rural Development Martin Ferris TD and Gerry McHugh MLA have put forward the party's proposals for a radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. This follows the party's recent visit to Brussels where they discussed the Fischler reform proposals with leading Agriculture Commission officials. It also comes as the negotiations on the proposals reach a critical juncture and as a new report from FAPRI - Ireland predicts that reform will have a beneficial effect compared to maintaining the current system.
Sinn Fein has long been critical of the CAP which has presided over the departure of tens of thousands of farmers from the land over the past 30 years. The party has advocated radical change at a time when the main farming organisations as well as the Dublin Government, Fine Gael, Labour, SDLP, UUP and DUP have set their faces against any reform without presenting any alternative proposals to address the serious crisis in farm incomes and debt.
Of the main farming organisations only the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) has engaged in the debate around the reforms and presented their own alternatives. That has had its effect within the IFA and the ICMSA with the IFA having just in the past week performed a complete volte face on de-coupling. It will be interesting to note what stance the Dublin Government now adopts having buried its head in the sand since the proposals were initially published in July 2002. Martin Ferris has tabled a question to Minister for Agriculture Joe Walsh on this and will be comparing his response to earlier ones in which he appeared almost aloof from what is without doubt the most serious issue facing Irish farmers at the present time.
While Sinn Fein is not uncritical of aspects of the proposals the party believes that in substance they do present an opportunity to at least arrest the current decline in farm incomes and numbers. Sinn Fein does not believe that they are the final solution - which is something that will require a more radical approach by an Irish Government on an all island basis - but they do represent an alternative to the current mess especially if amended to better suit the interests of small to medium farmers.
Among the amendments which Sinn Fein propose are;
Raising the lower income threshold at which payments are subject to reduction from ¤5,000 to ¤20,000 - This would exempt the vast majority of Irish farmers from any cut
Introduce an upper limit of ¤100,000 beyond which farmers would not be entitled to any more payments. There are in the region of 150 - 200 large farmers in the 26 counties in this category and the savings here would make up most of what is lost by excluding those on the lower threshold
Allow young farmers and entrants who were not farming during the reference years 2000 - 2002 to choose their best year of the three on which to base their decoupled entitlement
Demand that all of the funds saved under modulation be OEring-fenced' and maintained in country of origin and be match funded by the state
That adequate structural funds be made available for broader rural development programmes to enable rural communities to adapt to the economic and social change which will follow the reforms
Commenting on the Sinn Fein proposals, Martin Ferris and Gerry McHugh said that it was to be hoped that these would be the type of proposals put in the interests of Irish farmers by Irish Department of Agriculture officials in the ongoing negotiations.
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