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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 Tom Fleming: Information on Tom Fleming Zoom on Tom Fleming] These families have eked out a living for generations, in many instances, completely against the grain and on marginal land. There is great credit due to them for their determination, diligence and industry in making a living, often with the odds stacked against them while they carry out progressive work to improve their lot.

A man at a meeting referred to the fact that he had a farm of about 60 acres. He remarked it consisted of 20 acres arable land and 40 acres horrible land. That has been the reality in rural Ireland during the years. Those living in the west of Ireland have slaved and have been committed to improving their lot. They have carried out all types of drainage work with spades and sleáns in order to maintain the quality of the land. They cultivated their land and made it productive. In some cases, farmers are penalised for having rushes growing on their land. The weather is a contributory factor.

Land quality has divided the country into two Irelands. One cannot compare the conditions applying in the Golden Vale of Munster and the general areas east of the Shannon over to the Irish Sea and to the English Channel, with land along the western seaboard. One cannot overlook the fact that farmers on the western seaboard - dairy, beef or sheep farmers - are productive farmers if even at a micro-level. At all times they have contributed to the economy of this country by producing quality products as well as being excellent custodians of all aspects of the environment with regard to wildlife, heritage, traditions and all aspects of the quality of rural life.

A formula needs to be devised that is fair and equitable in order to address the gross inequity that exists in the current single farm payment. I refer to the many anomalies and loopholes in the current system which have been manipulated, for example, by the movement of cattle via the marts and directly onwards to the factories. This movement of animals was legal and above board. Because of the system adopted by Ireland very little farming activity was involved. These matters need to be addressed in order to provide fairness in the system for the people to whom I have referred.

Many aspects of the current system are far from equitable. For example, 50,000 farmers received less than €5,000 last year from the current single farm payment while 83,000 farmers received less than €10,000. At the same time, 243 farmers received €150,000 or more while four recipients received more than €300,000. A fairer distribution of the funds would protect the active farmer. It is imperative to double or treble the payments for existing recipients of lower levels of payments. There are significant opportunities for the large commercial farmer and the factory farmer in the medium to longer term as a result of the removal of the milk quota system and the need for food to feed the increasing global population. There is much to be gained for Ireland in this respect. It will provide opportunities for the large farmer and will improve the lot of the small farmer.

Deputy Willie Penrose: Information on Willie Penrose Zoom on Willie Penrose I thank the Minister for coming to the House to discuss the CAP reform proposals in advance of the Council meeting next week. I advise the Minister that this is a time to be brave and inspired and it is our time to give him our support. We need him to do something which it must be fairly recognised he cannot do on his own, as he will need to bring his 26 member state ministerial colleagues with him, together with the European Parliament in the co-decision process.

  The critical phase has been reached. The noble objective is to do what is right and proper for the greater good, the common good, for the multitude of farmers. It is critical that the Minister should not allow himself to become the prisoner or, indeed, erstwhile mouth-piece of the powerful, articulate end of the farming lobby which seems hell-bent on protecting what they have, the status quo. The Minister's hour is fast approaching. From my many conversations with ordinary farmers I know that is how the Minister will be judged. The current system is clearly in need of reform as it is greatly flawed and highly inequitable.

  This debate is significant as talks intensify in the next few days concerning the budget. The Minister has done a deal of work to bring it to this stage. The size of the budget and the agricultural envelope is now evident. It is important to keep in mind - many people seem to have gone astray in this regard - the origins of the policy which focused on the cheap supply of quality food for the 500 million citizens of the European Union and those further afield. A central tenet of the policy was to keep the maximum number of farmers on the land earning a living by achieving a viable income. There is now a narrow window of opportunity for the Minister, in his role as president, to conclude the CAP reform deal by June 2013. It is in the interest of Irish farmers that he does so.

  I recall an initial proposal to cut the CAP spending budget by €25 billion over six years and after some intensive and successful negotiations, which we should acknowledge were spearheaded by the French, the Spanish and the Irish Government, this spending cut has been substantially reduced. We acknowledge the Minister's role to the fore in helping to reduce the size of the reduction which was achieved.

  More needs to be done in recognition of the fact that the agricultural industry plays a vital and pivotal role in the economy. It supports 300,000 jobs as well as a large number of businesses in the rural economy. It provides the raw material for export earnings of €9 billion. It is in this context that securing the maximum amount of payment for the single farm payment and rural development schemes is paramount, approximating to just slightly less than €1.2 billion for the single farm payment under Pillar 1 and €350 million for the rural development scheme under the aegis of Pillar 2 - which is extremely important and seems to have been lost from the equation.

  The thrust of these schemes was to promote the viability of farming activity so as to secure the maximum number of farmers on the land. That focus should not be overlooked. It is notable that some of our farming organisations - who represent the very well-off and the big farmers - appear to overlook this important objective. It is in this context that the Commission plan for the CAP reform was introduced. It is against that background that the planned flat rate system of payment per hectare at national and regional level by 2020 has been discussed. The likely impact of such proposals has been well ventilated and examined.

  I fully support the proposal that these payments are targeted at active farmers and that they should pay special recognition to the particular position of young farmers. It is clear that the historic method and model of paying farmers based on the past production levels of 2000 and 2002 would be jettisoned in Ireland's case. The debate continues to centre on how this system will be replaced and over what time period this will occur. Unlike England and Germany, Ireland, in common with 16 other member states, did not opt for the flat rate system linked to land, which was introduced in 2003. However, change in on the way. It is anticipated there will likely be a significant transition period to enable farmers to adapt to changed circumstances under the proposal. These proposals are not finalised; the Minister has indicated that much discussion has yet to take place. It must be seen what will emerge in the final agreement. It is very clear that farmers who currently have very high per hectare payments will see these reduced and rightly so. How can payments of €200,000, at €4,000 a week, be justified when others are getting nothing?

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I agree with the Deputy.

Deputy Willie Penrose: Information on Willie Penrose Zoom on Willie Penrose I meet them. I support the Minister's efforts. I have met people who give out about social welfare. A farmer came to my clinic one day. He receives about €1,200 a week and he started telling me about social welfare. I asked him from where did he think that money came.

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