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Common Agricultural Policy Reform: Statements (Continued)

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 796 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan] The importance of getting the maximum into Pillar 2 cannot be underestimated. In the communities on the western seaboard, schemes under Pillar 2 funding such as REPS and the disadvantaged areas scheme have been critical in supporting incomes. Since 2008, these schemes have been cut by successive Governments to the detriment of incomes for most vulnerable farmers, forcing these people to get Farm Assist, which is 100% funded by the State. If the Government was to take an overall view on spending, it would realise that not fully funding Pillar 2 costs us money.

The cuts in Pillar 2 are one of the main reasons so many farmers on low single farm payments are adamant that they get a fairer distribution of funds in Pillar 1, namely, single farm payment. The Minister and the farming organisations are only fully realising this. In the past few weeks, the farming organisations, in particular the IFA, have begun to panic. The reason for this is that ordinary farmers on very low payments are starting to demand a fairer deal. I understand that an IFA regional meeting with over 300 farmers in Claremorris on Tuesday that was attended by IFA president John Bryan and CEO Pat Smith saw an open revolt by members. John Bryan was booed and shouted down when he tried to quieten a farmer and IFA county chairman who said the IFA was not representing them. This is action from its own members. In Limerick on Tuesday, the IFA and the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association were also verbally abused by farmers demanding a fairer deal. I get phone calls every day from farmers furious at the IFA and the Minister. Some of these farmers are not in my constituency but feel their voice is not being heard. I have talked to mountain farmers who say that if they do not get a fairer deal, they will close off the mountains to walkers. What kind of impact will that have on tourism? It will cost us money.

To understand the anger, we need to look at what the European Union is proposing. Commissioner Cioloş is proposing a flat rate per hectare payment which would work out at about €250 per hectare. This proposal has been roundly criticised as too simplistic and would see very heavy hits for some farmers, with some on mountains gaining substantially. Overall, we will be looking for redistribution of around €300 million. Other proposals, which I understand the Minister was involved in drafting in his capacity as chair of these talks, would see a minimum payment per hectare in the region of €196 and the front loading of payments on the first number of hectares, which would be the national average of that country. In Ireland's case, this would be 33 hectares. While I do not have the figures for front loading on the first 33 hectares, I know one could front load €400 on the first 20 and there would be €130 left per hectare for every other hectare after that. By adopting this policy of front loading, we will get money to the small farmers while reducing the negative impact for many small to medium-sized farmers with present payments of €400 to €500 per hectare. This will give everyone a fair chance.

I understand that the Minister put forward a different proposal, namely, approximation. I think the IFA is also proposing this but I do not think anyone is quite sure what the IFA is proposing because it has not said what it really wants. By this, I mean clarifying how much money in millions of euro it proposes to distribute. What the IFA has done is say it does not want to be saying "no" to everything like a former politician in Northern Ireland. I understand that the Minister's proposal involves a gradual move towards a flat-rate payment but here is the key - we never get to a flat rate. We will be about one third of the way there if we do that. The Minister's proposal will see a redistribution of €80 million. This is not radical enough, a viewpoint the European Union shares. As someone who classifies himself as a eurosceptic, I find it strange that on this occasion, it is the European Union that is fighting for our cause, not our people.

This model would see those with larger payments retain most of them. I can see why certain people in government want that to happen because there are many large farmers in there. Change must happen no matter who it upsets. A farm of 400 acres is not a small farm by anyone's estimation. Let us realise who will get upset. Based on the 2010 single farm payment, 247 farmers will get more than €100,000. When one thinks about that and compares it with the payments Senators and Deputies get, which are often criticised and rightfully so, how can we go along with a payments system like that? If we look a bit further down the line, we can see that a further 1,950 farmers are getting over €50,000. When one adds these two groups together, their total payment comes to over €150 million. Is it any wonder that there is such anger surrounding this issue?

I will deal with a major point in this debate, namely, productive and unproductive farmers. Obviously, we should expect farmers to be as productive as possible but the level of production will depend on the type of land. Productive farming cannot be a code for intensive farming. It is very easy to be productive if one has the backing of a high single farm payment because if things go wrong, one has the support of the high payment, which is a significant advantage. Farmers who have low payments for whatever reason need to be given a chance like a soccer team when the game starts and should at least be level. What hope is there for them if they must start ten goals down? That is what is being asked of farmers with low payments.

Another issue I want to discuss is the proposal for the Commission on greening, in particular the payment method which is a microcosm of the entire debate. The Commission has put forward a proposal which will see pasture, crop diversification and ecological focus areas. The proposal is that 30% of the national envelope in Pillar 1 be paid on these greening measures from which a farmer would have to choose. This payment would translate into a payment per hectare of €78 and would see a redistribution of €18 million from day one. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the road the Minister is going. In payment terms, what this will mean is that a farmer now getting €600 per hectare will get 30% greening, which will be paid as a percentage of their current payment. For this farmer, it will mean a greening payment of €180 yet another farmer with a payment of €60 will get 30% greening on each payment, which will come to €18. These two farmers who are doing the same thing will get totally different payments. This is because of how they farmed 11 years ago.

Could I take one minute off Deputy Tom Fleming?

Deputy Tom Fleming: Information on Tom Fleming Zoom on Tom Fleming Yes.

Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Eleven years is a long time ago. As some people who are farming now believed in Santa Claus then, it should not be that relevant. What about the farmer who is entering farming with no historic payment? As 30% of nothing is nothing, we will not get any greening payment. In one sense, we should not be too surprised by our Government because it has form in this area, particularly when one looks at how it dealt with new entrants to the nursing and teaching professions. The Minister's proposal is grossly unfair like much of the CAP debate which sees him and the farming organisations trying to justify making payments to farmers based on how they farmed at the beginning of the last decade. This is what it is all about. By staying in the time warp of 2002, larger and more established farmers will continue to draw obscene sums of money while more and more small farmers leave the land to the detriment of rural Ireland. It is not always beautiful.

Let us front load payments, put in a fairly high minimum payment in the region of what the Commission is proposing and put a limit on the maximum anyone can draw down at €35,000. If one cannot survive with a big lump of land and €35,000, one should get out of farming. This would redistribute €99 million and give the farmers on what is left behind a chance to compete on a level playing field. The alternative is that we will see a further exodus from rural Ireland. There is not much to get excited about in the economy but this is something exciting. If it is dealt with correctly, it could be the saving of rural Ireland. I plead with the Minister to think of the small farmer.

Deputy Tom Fleming: Information on Tom Fleming Zoom on Tom Fleming We must certainly strike a balance in any conclusions we reach in this new CAP agreement. I plead with the Minister regarding small farmers and mountain landholders who must be supported to help them maintain their family holdings which are pivotal in the social fabric of rural Ireland.

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