Rural Communities - Taking control of their future
Sinn Féin Agriculture Spokespersons Fermanagh South Tyrone outgoing MP Michelle Gildernew MLA and North Kerry TD Martin Ferris, together with South Down Westminster candidate Caitríona Ruane MLA and Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald launched the Sinn Féin Agriculture and Rural Development platform today, Thursday 28th April, at 1.30pm at the Slieve Croob Inn community tourism initiative in Castlewellan.
Speaking at the launch Ms Gildernew said:
"I want to welcome you all here to the Slieve Croob Inn, here in County Down - it an excellent example of a community tourism initiative built to develop resources here for tourism and to attract inward investment into the local economy.
"We need to see more of this. We need to enable people in our rural communities to have greater control over their economic future.
"Over the past year Sinn Féin have been involved in a number of initiatives
"One of issues raised time and time again by Sinn Féin both in the negotiations before Christmas and with the European Commission was the Beef Ban and we have secured important progress the campaign to have the Beef Export ban in the North removed.
"We have opposed plans to concentrate dairy production that would wipe out the small dairy farmer. Sinn Fein have also been at the forefront of the GM free Ireland campaign and have brought forward proposals opposing attempts to introduce GM food and crops into Ireland.
"We have also set out how the impact of the European Nitrates Directive can be reduced.
"We have worked to achieve the maximum spend of rural development money in rural areas and lobbied intensively to have PEACE II money spent. Through our two MEPs, Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald, we have sought to achieve progress across all of these issues and importantly in the roll out of a Peace III funding programme.
"But fundamentally Sinn Féin have articulated the ways in which British agricultural policy is detrimental to Irish farming and carried the case for the development of all Ireland responses to the many pressing issues facing our farming and fishing industries and our rural communities.
"The agricultural industry and rural life in Ireland is being damaged by central government on both sides of the border, the EU and world economic policies. It is a problem that requires an urgent all-Ireland response.
"That vision demands agricultural diversification in mixed and organic farming as well as off-farm employment, training and the development of rural communities. It requires the development of the clean green Irish brand that is recognised the world over as a quality brand.
"At the heart of Sinn Fein vision for our rural communities is the freedom to farm - freedom from the bureaucratic nightmare of red tape - an all Ireland framework that maximises the return for our produce and secures a fair deal for all Irish farmers and fishermen and women - and vibrant rural communities that have greater control over their own futures.
Deputy Ferris continued:
"Sinn Féin recognises and supports people's right to live in rural areas. We are committed to keeping farming families on the land and ensuring a good quality of life for all those in rural communities.
"Sinn Féin will begin by commissioning an all-Ireland Rural White Paper, recognising the different needs of all those living and working in rural areas on the island.
"It is a damming indictment of both the Irish and British Governments that the all Ireland animal health policy has still not been introduced. We need to see a vision for agriculture, for our fishing communities and our rural communities. This requires strategic thinking and political.
"The future of Irish farming must be planned on an all-Ireland basis with close co-operation between the two departments, North and South.
"Rural regeneration must be also planned on an island wide basis; development cannot stop at the border.
"It is also clear that Cap has let us down. We have not been allowed the much promised 'freedom to farm'.
"Sinn Féin led the way in arguing that full decoupling as the best way to provide a future for Irish farming in the context of major CAP reform. Full decoupling of all EU farm payments will enable farmers to move away from the current system and plan production on the basis of demand. This should lead to higher quality and have beneficial effects on farm incomes.
"However the amount of red tape and regulation being introduced goes against the ethos of the new CAP proposals which were to allow farmers the freedom to farm.
"Millions of pounds in direct payments are to be paid to exporting companies. This is a scandalous betrayal of farmers and rural communities. We are totally opposed to this money going to these companies. It should be capped at the same level as that for farmers, with the additional money redistributed to small farms.
"Want to also see government become closer to the people, committed to a rolling programme of decentralisation.
Dublin MRP Mary Lou McDonald also outlined Sinn Fein opposition to GM foods and crops. She said:
"The British Government's GM crop trials throw serious doubt on any decision to introduce commercial GM crops into Ireland. There are too many unanswered questions.
"Sinn Féin is totally opposed to the introduction of GM food and crops. This is an issue that will impact on Ireland's clean, green farming image and has implications for farmers across the island of Ireland. We see no environmental, economic, nutritional or consumer benefits from GM or improvements for developing countries in Genetic Modification. Sinn Féin believes that across the island we need one policy on this - a GM-free Ireland - because cross-contamination of hybrid plants and crops could contaminate the whole island.
Local Westminster candidate, south Down MLA Caitriona Ruane said:
"Much of rural development policy is driven by the Common Agricultural Policy, which is setting the direction of financial support towards securing economic and social cohesion.
"Europe is also providing funding for programmes to encourage greater participation in making plans and programmes work - we need to make sure that more of the money gets to such programmes because they are central to rural community networks. Yet many of these are pilot programmes, not guaranteed long-term funding.
"The lessons of the Leader Programmes must be integrated into a long-term national strategy drawn up in consultation with farmers, local business, local government, communities and their representative organisations.
"We also need to ensure that government departments, including DARD, that are legally obliged to redress inequalities in practices and policies live up to that obligation." ENDS
Note to Editors
Sinn Féin priorities
Our priorities are for the all-Ireland co-ordination of agriculture and rural development and a long-term agricultural development strategy based on higher value added production and the removal of 'UK' status on food exports.
Sinn Féin believes that the core objectives for the future of our rural communities should be:
· Creating a co-ordinated programme that links agriculture, enterprise, environment, culture, health and education and social services strategies into a comprehensive integrated rural development programme
· Creating the conditions where rural communities themselves can rebuild their local economies
· Ensuring that everyone has a dignified standard of living, access to proper education, housing and health resources
· Removal of 'UK' status from food exports from the North
· Support to make a case to the European Commission to have the beef export ban lifted, if necessary for the North to go it alone
· All-Ireland integration of the agri-food industry and agricultural services
· An all-Ireland food promotion agency
· Pressure on DARD to increase the financial assistance available to farmers under the farm waste management scheme, up to 60% grant assistance
· Support social infrastructure and integrated services to rural communities
· Sustainable agricultural, fisheries and forestry programmes that are environmentally sensitive
· An all-Ireland strategy to promote animal health and consumer confidence
· Introduce early retirement schemes
· A coherent cross-departmental strategy for rural economic development
· Full decoupling of all EU farm payments
· End to cutbacks in the provision of public services to rural communities
· An increase in the quota allocation for fishing fleets throughout Ireland
· Decentralisation of DARD central offices in tandem with a wider programme of decentralisation of offices