I am speaking today to Ard Comhairle motion 171,
Agriculture is the backbone of Irish society, always has been and hopefully always will be. Our farming and agri-food sectors have still performed well through the economic downturn that our country and the world is dealing with. This is a testimony to the resilience and resourcefulness of our farmers when times are tough the tough get going and that is exemplified by our farming sector.
But farming in Ireland is now impacted by global events such as droughts in Russia or Australia or conflict in the Middle East which can have huge influences on feed and fertilizer prices and well as fuel. But the most significant impact on Irish farming is EU policy and at times this can help or hinder Irish farming interests.
At present the EU Common Agricultural Policy is being reformed and the aim is to have a new policy in place by 2014. The last major reform was in 2003 and was implemented in 2005. We would like to see a new policy in place by this date but we are concerned that there signs of potential slippage and time is getting tight for implementation by the desired date. However that issue is largely out of our control.
Sinn Féin believes in a new policy which well-funded, flexible, to adapt to local needs and simplified from the current bureaucratic regime.
The Commission published their initial proposals last year. Our Minister for Agriculture in the north Michelle O Neill decided that the Tory policy response in Britain would not reflect the needs of Irish farmers in the six counties and therefore decided to develop her own counter proposals which would be much more in line with farmers in the rest of Ireland and to present these to the EU Commission.
The key issues in the proposals are:
• A desire to see a smooth and orderly 10 year transition towards a flat rate support payment.
• The paper suggests combining the basic and greening payments into a single payment to deliver significant simplification.
• The Minister also proposed simplification of the greening requirements so that they are more focused and easier to administer while avoiding negative unintended consequences.
• An alternative and much simpler approach to the active farmer test, based on past production activity, this would refocus support towards active farmers at the outset.
• Finally, it is important that there is maximum regional flexibility to enable regions to address specific local needs.
We believe these are constructive and sensible proposals that we are determined to drive into the negotiations. What we need to see now is a Team Ireland approach to the upcoming negotiations. Michelle O Neill has been working closely with Simon Coveney and all the 15 Irish MEPs the Agriculture Committee members in the Assembly, of which I am one, and the Oireacthas as well as the Farming Unions north and south to align our positions so that we can present a united front to Europe in order to protect the rights of Irish farmers.
Therefore I ask you to support motion 171.