“Minister must take final opportunity to deliver a Fair CAP to farmers” – Matt Carthy TD
The Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture, Matt Carthy TD, has accused Minister Charlie McConalogue of refusing to set out a single position that he has taking in EU CAP talks aimed at improving the supports received by poorer family farmers. Instead, Deputy Carthy said, the Minister is fighting for ‘flexibilities’ to block redistributive measures during the next CAP.
The Cavan Monaghan TD challenged Minister McConalogue during a Dáil debate last week. The fact, he said, that government had resisted even holding the debate is evidence that government has no intention of delivering anything other than the minimum in terms of further supports to smaller and poorer farmers.
During his contribution to that debate, Teachta Carthy said:
“The word “flexibility” was used countless times in the Minister’s contribution.
“But, when government Ministers say “flexibility” they mean they want to be able to maintain the status quo. Flexibility in Irish Government-speak in this instance means more of the same.
“The previous CAP had flexibilities on convergence. The Irish Government pursued the absolute minimum of 60% that was permitted. The previous CAP allowed the mechanism and the flexibility for a government to put in place upper limit payment levels. The Government used that flexibility to ensure that a small cohort of corporate entities remained in the position to draw down hundreds of thousands of euro.
“The difficulty is that whenever Irish Governments have been given flexibility, they have always used it to benefit the chosen few.
“The second bizarre claim by the Minister is that, all of a sudden, he is a defender of Irish sovereignty at EU level. When he said the European Parliament is causing him so many problems, he failed to mention that the reason the European Parliament has so much power is that Fianna Fáil gave it to this power in the Lisbon treaty. Sinn Féin articulated at the time that it would undermine the voice of Irish agriculture in CAP talks if the European Parliament had such a say in the deliberations. Fianna Fáil accused us of scaremongering and now the Minister is saying the European Parliament is taking an extremist position.
“The area in which the Minister was most disingenuous was in his statement on the overall budget. The facts are as follows. By the end of the next multi-annual financial framework Ireland will be contributing an additional €1 billion per year to the European budget. The CAP budget will be receiving €100 million less.
“The CAP’s share of the next EU budget will fall from 37% to 30%. That is the agreement the Government made at European level. The least the Ministers can do is be up front with farming organisations and farmers the length and breadth of the country on the reason they are being pitted against each other in respect of that same budget. It is because the Minister negotiated and agreed a bad deal.
“He is now going to the European negotiations to argue against the majority of Irish farmers. That would be a bizarre position were it not for the fact that the Minister is just the latest in a long line of Ministers with responsibility for agriculture who have taken that exact position at an EU level.
“We know why there is a need for redistributive measures. It is because under the current system for which the Minister wants to maintain flexibility, Larry Goodman is able to claim €414,000 per year. A stud farm in Kildare owned by a sheikh is drawing down €222,000 per year. That money is supposed to go to Irish farmers and the Government is looking for the flexibilities to maintain the current position.
“All the while our farmers are consistently being asked to deliver more while being paid less.
“There is a new format for the eco schemes, which the Government is trying to reduce in the negotiations. To return to the EU budget, why did the Government not demand that a separate Pillar 3 with new EU funding be provided? The inference from the figures the Department is producing is that this is new money or a new scheme with new criteria, which does not form part of the basic payment. If it does not form part of the basic payment, that means that in reality the cut to the CAP budget has been even more significant than I have outlined.
“I have said time and again that our farmers need fair play. That means that if they are asked, as they should be, to do more in the area of climate action, they need to be compensated for the work they are doing, and are willing to do.
“Farmers need fair prices. Yet again, they are waiting for the great measures that would provide fair prices, which the Minister promised to deliver when he was in opposition.
“Crucially, farmers need a fair CAP. That means there has to be redistribution. The Minister has yet to say what redistributive measures he will require. Let us recall that full convergence would deliver more income to 72,000 family farms. That is 60% of Irish farms and the proportion is even higher in the Minister’s constituency.
“Despite this, the Government is blocking talks at EU level and fighting against it. As a member of the Opposition, the Minister demanded continued convergence, even during the transition period.
“We do not know what the Minister is saying now about the position. We know that front-loading payments would disproportionately benefit smaller and medium-sized farmers. We do not know what the Minister’s position is on that matter. We still do not know what upper limit payment cap the Minister believes should be in place.
“I believe the upper limit payment without any loopholes or preconditions that any enterprise should be receiving under the CAP pillar 1 payment is €60,000 per annum”.
In the subsequent back-and-forth Deputy Carthy asked Minister McConalogue if he would commit to an upper limit on payments of €60,000. While the Minister agreed with this figure he did not clarify that any such figure would be absolute without loopholes or disregards.
When asked repeatedly by Deputy Carthy as to what level of redistribution towards poorer family farms should take place within farm payments the Minister continually refused to answer, stating “My position is that we should be able to have a national debate and discussion on this matter.”
This was dismissed by the Sinn Féin representative who said “We have had a national debate for the past 20 years.”
In further questioning when asked by Deputy Carthy whether he would bring the CAP strategic plan, that will be the policy framework within which the Common Agriculture Policy will apply in Ireland, before the Dáil for approval, Minister McConalogue said that he did not intend to do so.
Deputy Carthy has said that this undermines the Ministers stated position on EU talks that he is defending Irish sovereignty. He said “The Minister says that he has been a defender of sovereignty and has fought for flexibility to ensure decisions are made at a national level. But, in reality he doesn’t want a national debate, he wants decisions to be made behind the closed doors of his department without any Dáil approval. That is deeply concerning.”