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Austerity and Apathy have Devastated Rural Ireland – MacLochlainn

6 November, 2015 - by Pádraig Mac Lochlainn


Austerity and Apathy have Devastated Rural Ireland – MacLochlainn

Speaking during his opening address at the Farming in Peripheral Areas Conference today in Milford, Co Donegal, local TD for the Donegal Constituency Pádraig MacLochlainn stated that there needs to be a clear change of direction in Agricultural policy to protect family farms.

MacLochlainn said:

“In recent years austerity and apathy from Brussels and Dublin have devastated rural Ireland causing significantly increased levels of marginalisation, unemployment and mass emigration.

“This conference is born out of the fact that while agriculture is an important indigenous sector and by its robust and resilient nature, has contributed greatly to the Irish economy, many farmers continue to struggle to make a living.

“Further, small farmers in peripheral counties have struggled to remain viable as financial supports have disproportionately benefitted larger farmers.

“Over recent decades, thousands of farmers have been forced off the land.

“There is a need for fundamental change in policies and practices in relation to the West and North West of Ireland.

“There needs to be a change of direction – this conference aims to contribute to that change by not only outlining the challenging nature of peripheral farming and rural development in peripheral areas but also assess ways to support and sustain them.

“Peripheral can mean many things from mountainous and areas of natural constraint to regions that have been marginalised by underinvestment and neglect.

“In Donegal we face challenges associated with the physical landscape as well as from discriminatory government policy which continues to prioritise the east coast.

“The contributions from the farming organisations IFA, ICSA and the Natura/ Hill Farmers Association here today have exposed the extent of the neglect and pointed to the solutions needed to sustain our precious farming families that are the life blood of our rural communities". ENDS

Note to Editors: Full Text of Speech Below

I would like to welcome you to all her today. Particularly those of you who have travelled long distances to be with us.

Cead mile failte

In recent years austerity and apathy from Brussels and Dublin have decimated rural Ireland causing significantly increased levels of marginalisation, unemployment and mass emigration. 

This conference is born out of the fact that while agriculture is an important indigenous sector and by its robust and resilient nature, has contributed greatly to the Irish economy, many farmers continue to struggle to make a living

In total the sector comprises one of the largest indigenous sectors in Ireland; it generates 7.1% % of gross value added at factor cost, almost 10% of Ireland’s exports and provides 8.8% of national employment.

The Agri-food sector has resiliently outperformed other sectors of the Irish economy over the last number of years and yet many farmers are left undercut without receiving a fair price for their produce.

Further, small farmers in peripheral counties have particularly struggled to remain viable as financial supports have disproportionately benefitted larger farmers.

The Irish family farm model is one to be cherished but policy changes in the EU and nationally have led us to believe that we are facing into a sector that nurtures industrial large scale farming. This places pressures on small farms unable to compete, potentially pushing many out of the sector. The future of rural Ireland depends on a strong network of family farms.

The development of a thriving agriculture sector needs farmers- farmers who are confident and supported in their work both by central government and by Europe.

In peripheral areas like Donegal, communities frequently feel at a loss as to how to halt the decline we’ve witnessed over the last decades. Many rural communities feel their voices are not being heard in the corridors of power.

Over recent decades, thousands of farmers have been forced off the land.

There is a need for fundamental change in policies and practices in relation to the West and North West of Ireland.   There needs to be a change of direction – this conference aims to contribute to that change by not only outlining the challenging nature of peripheral farming and rural development in peripheral areas but also assess ways to support and sustain them.

Peripheral can mean many things from mountainous and areas of natural constraint to regions that have been marginalised by underinvestment and neglect.

In Donegal we face challenges associated with the physical landscape as well as from discriminatory government policy which continues to prioritise the east coast.

Today’s proceedings will be addressed by both Irish and International speakers.

The morning session will outline the specific challenges faced by farmers in peripheral areas. It also gives a sense of the potential impact of trade on peripheral farmers- this includes contentious deals such as TTIP and CETA that have been negotiated in secret by unelected EU officials supposedly on our behalf.

The second session will reflect on the issues raised in the first panel and in doing so, assess the sustainability of farming policy; is the current model of farming viable for peripheral farmers, are there alternatives better suited to these areas?

We will have a key note address from Northern Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill after lunch followed by our final panel on Rural development.

This panel will deal with methods of Rural development and examples of best practice across the EU.

This section aims to show how the work of farmers is linked to the entire rural community, including surrounding towns and villages. It also hopes to deal with wider obstacles to rural development and the rural economy more generally.

Fantastic work is being done by local authorities, community and voluntary groups and individuals to counter the regional imbalance we find here in Donegal and in other peripheral areas. This panel will outline some of this work and show the resilient nature of rural communities in ensuring their own viability in the face of government neglect.

I hope you enjoy this conference but more importantly, I trust that we will all leave with a sense of purpose and a renewed determination to protect our precious farming communities in peripheral rural areas by confronting and reversing policies from Dublin or Brussels that have increasingly undermined them.

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