Sinn Féin Brussels delegation discuss CAP reform proposals
A Sinn Féin delegation met with the Chef d'Cabinet of the Agricultural Commission Corrado Pirozi-Biroli and a member of the Cabinet with responsibility for CAP reform, Anastassios Haniotis to discuss the current reform proposals. The delegation, which was in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday of this week, consisted of the party's spokespersons on Agriculture and Rural Development, Martin Ferris TD and Gerry McHugh MLA, and Newry/Armagh Councillor Patricia O'Rawe.
The group engaged in a wide-ranging discussion that covered the main aspects of the proposals including de-coupling, modulation and increased support for rural development. While the officials emphasised that the proposals had still not assumed their final shape, they did stress that negotiations had reached an crucial stage and that it was vital that a conclusion be made if possible by the end of June.
The Sinn Féin representatives posed a number of questions which elicited detailed responses. On de-coupling, Mr Pirozi-Biroli claimed that this would provide the means to guarantee any farmers who wished to remain in the sector, the opportunity to produce in order to meet specific consumer demands, while being guaranteed a payment based on the historical reference years. In response to a question regarding the falling numbers engaged in farming, Mr Haniotis said that this would continue, but that the reform proposals presented a means to reconcile the need for a more market oriented agriculture with the broader social and political goals inherent in the European Model of Agriculture.
The Sinn Féin representatives also made a number of proposals which they felt would strengthen the proposals and ensure a greater degree of income security for small to medium farmers. Among these were that the lower threshold of €5,000 be increased and that an upper limit also be put in place. The Commission members argued that increasing the threshold would limit the amount of money available and that the original upper limit of €300,000, which has now been removed, would only apply to a small number of farmers in the EU.
There did, however, appear to be a much greater willingness to amend the proposals regarding young farmers although they argued that there are likely to be very few new entrants to farming over the foreseeable future. The Sinn Féin members argued that the reference year element would have to be changed in order to allow young farmers establish a viable entitlement, and that there was a case to be made for farmers who may leave dairying in order to embark on different systems over the next number of years.
In discussing the implications of the ongoing WTO negotiations and the growing trend towards an open competitive market model of agriculture, Mr Pirozi-Biroli and Mr Haniotis agreed with the Sinn Féin delegation that farmers should be encouraged to return to the co-operative system as a counter-balance to the domination of the processing sector by a small number of large businesses which absorb an increasing share of the price paid to consumers.
Other issues which were discussed included the question of the destiny of modulated funds; the need for a much broader approach to rural development to enable communities to cope with the economic and social changes taking place in agriculture; the various proposals for partial de-coupling; and the manner in which the CAP reform proposals have been debated in Ireland. The Commission officials agreed that there has been a great deal of confusion over the proposals due to the lack of engagement in the debate and of counter-proposals.
Speaking after the meeting, Deputy Ferris and Mr McHugh said;
"We feel that this has been an extremely valuable encounter. Sinn Féin has made no secret of the fact that we have had major concerns over the manner in which the CAP has affected Irish agriculture over the past 30 years, and in particular the situation of small to medium family farms. While we would have difficulties with some aspects of the current proposals and while we would still argue in favour of certain changes regarding income limits, and the need to ring-fence and match the modulated funds, we do see merit in reforming the CAP so that farmers may face the future with a greater deal of certainty than they have enjoyed over the past decade and more. Otherwise the future will be one of continual decline in income levels and in the numbers of family farms. Above all, we would call on all with an interest in Irish farming to engage fully in the debate on the proposals so that the best interests of the majority of Irish farmers north and south can be placed at the centre of the negotiations".ENDS