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 Header Item Topical Issue Matters
 Header Item Common Agricultural Policy Reform: Statements

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 796 No. 3

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Topical Issue Matters

Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews): Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 27A and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Dan Neville - the bypass for Adare, County Limerick; (2) Deputy Denis Naughten - the need for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to outline his position on European Commission proposals on reform of the single farm payment and reform of the Common Agricultural Policy; (3) Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh - the right of part-time firefighters to be entitled to social welfare payments; (4) Deputy Gerald Nash - the need to examine the entitlements in respect of travelling companions of patients being treated under the treatment abroad scheme; (5) Deputy Michael McNamara - bank confidentiality agreements and mortgage debt relief; (6) Deputy Paschal Donohoe - the need for the Minister for Education and Skills to respond to the campaign for a new Educate Together secondary school for the Dublin 1, 3, 7 and 9 areas; (7) Deputy Paul J. Connaughton - the future of mental health services in County Galway, with special reference to 24-hour facilities at Toghermore House, Tuam; (8) Deputy Catherine Murphy - the delays experienced by persons waiting for appointments with ear, nose and throat specialists; (9) Deputy Thomas P. Broughan - the need to confirm whether evidence was withdrawn before the publication of the 2009 Coffey report into the Stardust tragedy; (10) Deputy Seán Crowe - the impact of upward-only rent reviews on businesses and jobs in town shopping centres, such as the Mill Centre, Clondalkin, and the need for landlords to adopt a more proactive approach to making commercial rents sustainable; (11) Deputy Clare Daly - health and safety issues resulting from the electricians dispute at St James's Hospital; (12) Deputy Kevin Humphreys - the need to intervene with the ESB to ensure guided tours and current opening hours continue at the Georgian museum, No. 29, Fitzwilliam Street Lower, in the year of The Gathering; (13) Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl - the backlog of 6,000 scans and X-rays at Tallaght hospital, Dublin; (14) Deputy Mick Wallace - the need to address the shortfall in the pension fund of the Abbey Theatre; (15) Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly - the launch of the personal insolvency service and yesterday's announcement regarding Central Bank targets for solutions to the mortgage arrears problem; (16) Deputy Dessie Ellis - the need to introduce measures to combat street harassment, particularly of a sexually threatening manner as highlighted by the global Hollaback! movement; and (17) Deputy John Lyons - the need to adjust commercial rates and consider a large retail levy to support small retailers in town centres.

The matters raised by Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Paul J. Connaughton, Seán Ó Fearghaíl and John Lyons have been selected for discussion.

Common Agricultural Policy Reform: Statements

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney My apologies for being a couple of minutes late. I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the House today on the Common Agricultural Policy reform proposals. Our debate is timely given that we are approaching a crucial juncture in the negotiations. The EU Council of Ministers will meet on Monday and Tuesday of next week with a view to adopting a comprehensive Council position on the proposed reforms.

The proposed reform of the CAP arises in the context of the revision of the EU multi-annual financial framework, MFF, for the EU budget for the coming years. This is a seven-year budget. The reform must be decided by full co-decision between the Ministers of the 27 member states in the Council and the European Parliament. The challenge for the current round of CAP reform is to deliver in good time a Common Agricultural Policy that is fit for purpose and coherent with the Europe 2020 strategy for recovery and growth, and that supports the twin goals of competitiveness and sustainability. Ireland seeks a policy that promotes sustainable intensification of production, environmental stewardship and a vibrant rural economy and that is consistent with our Food Harvest 2020 strategy.

As the current holder of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Ireland is at the centre of the negotiations. Good progress was made by previous Presidencies on technical issues, with the result that there were some 30 issues outstanding when Ireland took over the Presidency last January. In parallel, the European Parliament has made substantial progress on the dossier. The agriculture and rural development committee of the EU Parliament voted on its amendments in January and the Parliament's position was confirmed yesterday in plenary session.

My aim is to finalise the Council position and negotiating mandate by the end of March, leading to inter-institutional trilogues with the aim of overall political agreement by the end of June. A significant step forward in this process was achieved on 8 February 2013 when the European Council reached agreement on the EU budget for the next seven years. Subject to the consent of the European Parliament, the agreement provides the necessary clarity on agricultural funding that will allow completion of the negotiations on CAP reform. I hope this occurs under our Presidency.

The agreement was generally positive from a CAP perspective. The CAP will continue to account for almost 39% of the overall budget in year one. It incurred a cut of 3% compared to the Commission's original proposals, whereas the total EU budget was cut by 7%. This represented a good negotiating outcome in the face of significant pressure from several sources for a higher cut to CAP expenditure. Ireland has secured €1.5 billion per year for agriculture, or €11 billion over the seven-year period of the CAP.

Another crucial issue in the MFF agreement is the distribution of CAP funds between member states. The formula agreed by the Heads of State and Government for the distribution of direct payment funds, or Pillar 1 funds as farmers know them, between member states had originally been proposed by Ireland and resulted in a relatively favourable outcome for the country. The result is that the level of direct payments made to Irish farmers has been largely protected by maintenance of our direct payments ceiling at over €1.2 billion per year, with a relatively small reduction to accommodate new member states and because of the overall cut in the budget.

Now that the EU budget has been decided, although it has still to be confirmed by the European Parliament, the main issue for many member states, including Ireland, is the distribution of direct payments among farmers and the attendant rules and regulations. The Commission has proposed moving to a flat-rate payment system. In the case of several member states, including Ireland, this would result in a significant transfer of funds among farmers. I believe there is a need for redistribution but I am seriously concerned that moving to a flat rate, as proposed, would be harmful for the Irish agricultural sector as a whole and certainly for the Food Harvest 2020 strategy. Some member states, especially the newer member states, are seeking alternative solutions, while others, including Germany, are satisfied with the flat-rate proposal.

The February Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting broadly endorsed a package of measures which I tabled, aimed at achieving a compromise on this rather difficult issue. The package included an option to take a more flexible approach to distribution, the so-called approximation model favoured by Ireland. This would result in a less radical level of redistribution between individual farmers, moving gradually towards, but certainly not all the way to, a flat-rate payment for everyone. It also included a redistributive payment as an additional option for member states. This is essentially a top-up payment for the first number of hectares.

The reality is that Ireland is facing two sets of demands on this issue. On the one hand, there are farmers on low payments per hectare who are arguing for a larger share of the available funding on the grounds of equity and fairness, and on the other hand there are farmers on high payments per hectare who have invested single farm payment funds in improving the productive capacity of their farms and have no wish to move back from this position. They have earned these entitlements over time. Both sets of demands are understandable and reasonable, but they are difficult to reconcile. We need a solution that is fair to everyone and that will represent a real move away from historical payments - such payments seriously disadvantage some farmers - but that avoids unreasonably large cuts to those on higher payments. This is why I have put forward the approximation model, which would give member states such as Ireland the flexibility to do that.

Under the Commission proposal, we have estimated, using our 2010 database, that €280 million would be transferred between farmers. Under the Irish proposal, a minimum of €74 million would be transferred, with flexibility to transfer more if we wished to do so. The key will be reaching a fair compromise which levels the playing field without putting productive farmers out of business. As is the case with any negotiation, the final position will be somewhere between my approach and that of the Commission. I am fighting to ensure that the best possible outcome for all farmers is reached in a balanced and fair way.

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