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De Brún - United Irish voice in Europe vital to future of farming

9 March, 2004

Sinn Féin EU Affairs Spokesperson, West Belfast MLA Bairbre de Brún has said that an all Ireland approach to agriculture is more necessary now than ever before and a strong and unified all Ireland voice championing the needs of Irish agriculture, north and south, at the very heart of the European Union.

Ms de Brún said:

"Irish farming communities are in crisis. Farming incomes, north and south, are lower now than they have been in a decade. Across the island the farming sector has become dependent on EU grants, price supports and other aids through the Common Agricultural Policy. The industry faces low profit margins and erratic market prices for agricultural produce. Added to the inequalities that arose from CAP, this has left thousands of farmers on either low or subsistence incomes. There has also been an increasing isolation of ordinary farmers from the business of farming. Farmers have systematically lost control of the industry which depends on the produce they generate.

"This is not an Irish problem alone, but one which affects farmers and rural communities across the European Union.

"Nor is it simply a matter of statistics or economic calculations. Behind this story of crisis lie our rural communities and farming families whose well-being relies on agriculture. In turn, the very future of rural Ireland depends on these same farming families.

"Agriculture plays a major role in the Irish economy. Farming is the second largest industry in the 26 Counties while in the 6 Counties it is four times more important than in many other EU states.

"Sinn Féin is committed to keeping farming families on the land and ensuring a good quality of life for all those in rural areas. Rural communities in both parts of the island share a common interest and need a common platform.

"An all Ireland approach to agriculture is more necessary now than ever before. To date, the workings of the all Ireland structures created under the Good Friday Agreement, have been positive. There is widespread acknowledgement of the benefits of an integrated island wide approach. The need for further development has been acknowledged by the all Ireland Ministerial Council and other stakeholders in society, including the agricultural sectors.

"There is a growing awareness that the well being, indeed the very survival of Irish agriculture will depend on developing the industry on an all Ireland basis.

"This needs to go much further than the present level of co-operation.

"We need a radical new strategy to equip Irish agriculture for the challenges that lie ahead. We need a series of parallel steps to be taken to formulate effective development strategies for individual rural communities. Such steps would include, as a basic starting point, putting local communities in the driving seat of formulating their own strategies.‰

This approach would include:

  • A long-term agricultural plan based on high value added production
  • A return to genuine co-operativism in the processing sector
  • All-Ireland integration of the agri-food industry and agricultural services
  • Effective all-Ireland negotiation with the World Trade Organisation and the EU.
  • All-Ireland food promotion
  • All-Ireland statistical information on farming
  • An all-Ireland strategy to promote animal health and consumer confidence
  • Sustainable agricultural, fisheries and forestry programmes that are environmentally sensitive.
  • A strategy supporting the role of women in rural development and the provision of proper childcare in rural areas to enable women to access training and employment
  • Regulation of food prices
  • Tackling the problems of farm debt
  • Facilitating integrated services to rural communities; and
  • A Land Commission to assist small to medium size farmers in acquiring agricultural land for expansion

Ms de Brún added:

"We must secure a future for Irish farming. This will entail vigorous measures embracing all aspects from animal health to the marketing of food produce. Most importantly, it will require a strong and unified all Ireland voice championing the needs of Irish agriculture, north and south, at the very heart of the European Union." ENDS

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