[Sinn Fein]

26th June 2003

CAP reforms present considerable opportunities for Irish farmers

Speaking during a Dáil debate this evening on the agreement reached on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, the Sinn Fein Spokesperson on Agriculture and Rural Development, Martin Ferris TD said the proposals "present considerable opportunities for Irish farmers if adapted to the best advantage". "To the extent that the Minister has been able to ensure that this is the case, he must of course be commended," the Kerry North TD said. Deputy Ferris went on to say that "almost alone among Irish political parties and farming organisation we have advocated a creative engagement with the process in order to secure the best possible deal for Irish farmers."

Full text as follows:

"The first thing that must be said in relation to the proposals as they have been agreed, is that they do in fact present considerable opportunities for Irish farmers if adapted to the best advantage. To the extent that the Minister has been able to ensure that this is the case, he must of course be commended.

"I believe as I have said that the reforms do contain proposals that can be made work to the benefit of Irish farmers and indeed Sinn Fein has been saying this from the time when the original reform proposals were published in July last year. Almost alone among Irish political parties and farming organisations we have advocated a creative engagement with the process in order to secure the best possible deal for Irish farmers.

"Sinn Fein has for long been critical of CAP and it was clear that in its current form that small to medium scale farmers would continue to struggle with the continuing loss of tens of thousands from the sector. A stark indication of this fact was that of the 146,300 farmers in this state in 1998, only 44,300 were considered to be viable. If faced with a choice of a continuation of this process under the status quo, or of seizing the opportunity to bring about a reform that will guarantee a certain level of security and prosperity for small to medium sized farmers there was only one option. It is unfortunate that others chose to adopt a completely negative approach and I believe that this contributed to their lack of input into the final agreement.

"As regards the proposals themselves, they probably bear more of a resemblance to those originally put forward by the Commission than most would have believed possible. Although full de-coupling is not mandatory, it still remains as an option and I would urge Minister Walsh to chose this rather than any of the partial measures that will only further increase the level of bureaucracy, and will not bring about the kind of opportunities for farmers to diversify their production and marketing with the guarantee of a certain level of income through the single payment.

"In regards to modulation, I note that the maximum rate from 2008 will be held at 5% and that according to the Department that once up and running the manner in which it is implemented will mean that 85% of the modulated funds will be retained here to fund the various rural development measures. The retention of these funds was something which Sinn Fein argued for and we would also propose that those funds are match funded by the state.

"According to the Commission, modulation as it currently stands will make €1.2 billion available each year for rural development. That compares to the €1. 48 billion that would have been available had the original proposal been fully implemented after 2012. We believe that the rural development aspects of the reform are crucial to their overall success so that funding must be maximised. We also feel that broader rural development funding through the Structural Funds should also be increased to help rural communities better adapt to the radical economic and social changes that will take place over the coming years.

"While the €5,000 lower threshold has been retained we would have preferred to see a higher level of perhaps €15,000 to provide more of a cushion to small to medium farmers. The resulting shortfall could have been more than compensated for by imposing an upper limit on the 1 or 2 % of farmers who earn €100,000 and more in direct payments each year.

"Another area where we expressed concern was in relation to younger farmers who would not have farmed over the reference years 2000 2002. We welcome the apparent changes here, and also the proposal to create a national reserve of up to 3% to cater for this category of farmers.

"Much has been made of the effects which the proposals will have on the dairy sector here. Indeed this has been cited by some of the farming organisations as the main reason for their continued opposition to the reform.

"It is true that a number of changes have been included in the agreement that was reached this morning, but I don t accept that the kind of change that is going to take place in the dairy sector can be attributed to the CAP reform. The majority, in fact, would have taken place anyway if Agenda 2000 continued to be implemented. That is clear from reading the recent Prospectus report on dairying.

"That report recommends that the sector moves towards a situation in which the average quota rises towards 100,000 gallons and in which one major company comes to dominate the processing industry. When I tabled questions here to Minister Walsh in regard to this he did not contradict the Prospectus report and nor did any of the main farming organisations come out to say that this would be a bad thing.

"In other words, it is okay to have a situation where thousands of small dairy farmers are rationalised out of the industry and where farmers are given an even worse deal by a cartel that controls processing. That will be the situation regardless of these reforms, just as tens of thousands of farmers face falling incomes and increasing debt under the status quo. In this situation, therefore, I say that we should try and make the reforms work so that the process of decline can be halted. Of course, we would also advocate further measures initiated here, but it does at least represent a window of opportunity.

"To conclude then, I would like to welcome the positive aspects of what has been agreed but to also to point to where the proposals could have been improved. I would also like to put on notice that Sinn Fein will be presenting our own detailed proposals as to how best we feel the Minister ought to implement the agreement to the advantage of the majority of Irish farmers". ENDS

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