Matt Carthy MEP calls for action against Spanish attack on right to free speech

Unfair Trading Practices need to be tackled to allow farmers receive fair prices – Matt Carthy MEP

The Sinn Fein MEP for the Midlands North West, Matt Carthy, has been appointed shadow rapporteur by the European Parliament to examine the long awaited proposal from the Commission which purports to deal with unfair trading practices in the agricultural sector.


Speaking this week Carthy explained that his priority would be to strengthen the commission proposal so that it will outlaw the practices of retailers and processors which result in farmers being often forced to sell their products at below production-cost prices.


He said:


“Commissioner Phil Hogan recently acknowledged to me in a European Parliament debate that his proposed legislation could have been stronger but he argued that it was better to start with a weaker position in the hope that it would be strengthened in negotiations with the council and parliament.  This appears to be a bizarre approach to take considering these proposals have been promised for several years and this process may be the only opportunity to protect farmers from oppressive business relationships for a generation.


“The weakness in the commission’s draft can be seen in the muted response from the large retail representatives.  If the proposals genuinely signalled a shift in favour of farmers the retail lobby would be responding in force.  Instead it is clear that they do not yet feel threatened by the proposal.  That leaves a challenge for the European Parliament to amend the legislation to really address the imbalances in the food market.


“While I welcome the introduction of many price observatories in the agriculture sector it must be complimented by mandatory price reporting. We also need to see new generation contracts where risks are shared rather than resting entirely with the farmer.


“One of the most striking absences from the Commission’s proposals is any attempt to tackle below cost of production buying. It now seems to be considered a revolutionary concept to suggest that farmers should receive a price above the cost of production for their goods.


“The proposal also allows a number of unfavourable practices to remain if set out in the contract.  These allow buyers to drive the farmer’s profit margin close to zero or even less.


“My objective during the parliamentary process will be to find agreement to introduce measures that ensure that these terms do not eat up the tiny profit margins farmers can hope to receive.  Because, the truth is that should the legislation remain unchanged we will not see the type of change required and farmers will continue to be the poor relation in their dealings with retailers and processors”.

Fine Gael selling out Rural Ireland on EU Trade deals – Matt Carthy MEP

Speaking this week following reports that Minister Heather Humphreys had approved a mandate for the European Commission to enter into Free Trade Negotiations with Australia and New Zealand, Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy said:


“The pace and depth at which EU free trade agreements are being negotiated is extremely concerning.


“Just last month, the European Commission concluded a Free Trade deal with Mexico in a record speed of under two years.  The complete lack of transparency during this process means that the fact that a tariff free quota of 10,000tn for Mexican beef was agreed is still unknown to most.


“It’s not just the cumulative effect of this, the recently agreed Canadian deal and the ongoing Mercosur talks that raise concerns, but also the fact that there has been zero debate at national level about the damage these deals could do to workers rights, environmental standards and of course sensitive sectors such as agriculture.


“As one of the negotiators of the European Parliament’s submission to the New Zealand and Australian FTAs, I argued for the exclusion of certain sectors from the mandate.


“Once again of course while we have been told that a mandate has been agreed, the parameters and detail of that mandate remain a secret.


“These are agreements the European Commission’s own impact assessments issue caution over.  Increased market access for primary agriculture will negatively affect the standard of living and traditional lifestyle of small farmers in Ireland and across the EU.


“Adverse impacts on rural employment in both skilled and unskilled agricultural labour are also predicted by these impact assessments.


“It is disappointing that Minister Humphreys has signed up to a mandate at EU level for another potentially dangerous trade deal without initiating a debate on this issue at home. If there are overriding priorities that the Government puts ahead of protecting rural Ireland and the agricultural sector, then it should be upfront about that.


“It is bizarre, and quite frankly unacceptable, that the Minister, as someone from a rural community, would agree to open negotiations on yet two more free trade agreements in a back room before a national study is even conducted on the cumulative effect of these and other free trade deals.  She should explain her reasons for doing so.”

National Farm Survey confirms Beef & Sheep sectors ready to collapse – Matt Carthy MEP

Sinn Féin MEP, Matt Carthy, has said that the 2017 Teagasc National Farm Survey confirms that the beef and sheep sectors are on the verge of collapse unless immediate action is taken.


Carthy, a member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture & Rural Development committee, said:


“The headline figure that average farm incomes have risen to €31,300 hides the real crisis that the Teagasc survey exposes.  The rise is principally associated with growth in the volatile dairy sector which indicates average income of €86,000, primarily attributed to larger farm enterprises.


“Worryingly there has been no growth in the beef and sheep sectors with an average farm income of €16,900.  Suckler income averages were as low as €12,680.


“That two of our most vital agricultural sectors are receiving just 54% of the national average income should be setting alarm bells ringing.  That the Teagasc survey finds that only 47% of our farms are economically viable reaffirms that we are in the centre of a farm income crisis.


“This crisis did not just happen overnight; in 2013 sucker farm incomes were €20,019; but the Irish government and European Commission have been ignoring the warning signs for several years.  Their inaction and neglect has led to greater market concentration, depressed prices and vital farming sectors on the verge of collapse.


“Of course, the imbalances are even starker when viewed on a regional basis. Cattle rearing farm incomes in the Northern and Western regions are €9,881, wholly unsustainable.


“Behind these figures are farm families facing uncertain futures.  Successive Irish governments have paid lip service to the notion of saving our traditional Irish family farm network but have stood over a system that allows 35% of these farms to survive on an income of less than €10,000 per annum.


“Those farms are the backbone of rural economies.  After years of austerity and emigration that have particularly impacted on rural communities local farms are the last industry that remains in many areas.  If they go out of business rural communities suffer.


“We now need to move beyond platitudes from the government and the commission.  We need an immediate response that includes direct supports to suckler farmers.


“An analysis carried out by UCD on behalf of the IFA showed that every €1 of support provided to suckler farmers generated over €4 of economic activity.


“We also require immediate measures to ensure that farmers receive a fair price for their product; that CAP payments are rebalanced to the farmers who need the support most; and that EU trade deals, that will put additional stress on Irish farmers, are abandoned.


“The Teagasc Farm survey shows that vital farm sectors are on the verge of collapse.  It must be responded to with immediate political action”.

MEP Carthy MEP to file formal complaint with Ombudsman over access to documents

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has indicated he intends to file a formal complaint with the EU Ombudsman against both the Commission and the Council for their refusal to grant MEPs access to documents on crucial policies such as free trade agreements and taxation.


Carthy said: “The treaties guarantee the right of public access to documents of the EU institutions, with certain exceptions. And EU case law holds that the relevant Regulation aims to ensure public access to the entire content of Council documents, including the political positions taken by Member States.


“Last week Ms O’Reilly addressed MEPs on the Special Committee on Financial Crimes, Tax Evasion and Tax Avoidance (TAX3) on the issue of access to documents, where she informed MEPs she would be referring a Special Report to the European Parliament on failures of transparency in the council’s legislative process.


“She invited MEPs on the TAX3 committee and the previous Panama Papers inquiry committee, who have been denied access to documents of the Council’s Code of Conduct group on Business Taxation, to make an official complaint to the office of the Ombudsman. She also expressed her belief that the lack of transparency regarding corporate tax issues is a result of extensive lobbying.


“Ms O’Reilly also highlighted her introduction this February of a new fast-track procedure for the Ombudsman to deal with complaints over public access to documents of the EU institutions, under which she will deal with such complaints within two months.


“In the TAX3 and Panama Papers committee, we have often been frustrated by the refusal of the Council to provide us with access to documents we request, while the documents we receive from the Commission are heavily redacted. Additionally, it is not really ‘public’ access to documents at all, as access to these documents is restricted to a secret reading room and MEPs are banned from publicly releasing the content of these documents.


“MEPs from across the political spectrum on the TAX3 special committee are discussing the option of making an official complaint to the Ombudsman regarding the failure by the Council to provide documents we have requested access to, and the Commission’s unnecessary heavy redaction of the documents it provides to us.


“It is in the interests of the Irish people to see the positions our government takes in Council discussions.


“I will be participating in this formal complaint through the TAX3 committee, and I also intend to file a separate complaint regarding the Council’s refusal to grant me access to documents regarding discussions on proposals such as public country by country reporting for multinationals.”

Carthy calls on senior ECB representatives to visit Oireachtas

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has written to Chair of the Supervisory Board of the European Central Bank (ECB), Danièle Nouy, urging her or another senior representative of the Single Supervisor to visit Ireland to engage directly with members of the Oireachtas.


Carthy, a member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee in the European Parliament, was speaking following a letter from Ms Nouy to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, declining the Committee’s invitation to participate in a hearing on the treatment of non-performing loans.


The Sinn Féin MEP said: “Last month I participated in a hearing of Finance Committee on EU matters including the Commission and ECB’s views on the treatment of non-performing loans, where several Committee members expressed frustration that Ms Nouy had declined the invitation for direct engagement with the Committee.


“The recent moves by several Irish banks to sell portfolios of thousands of distressed loans, including split mortgages, to vulture funds has sparked a significant political debate, which has focused on the real-world impact of such sales on mortgage-holders and their families.


“For several months this debate has been marked by a lack of transparency from the banks involved and a lack of firm clarity from the EU and Irish supervisory authorities. There is obviously a value in direct interaction between Irish policymakers and the ECB’s central leadership representatives in discussing the ECB’s euro area guidance and supervision on the prudential treatment of non-performing loans.


“More generally, there is a need for further direct engagement by the ECB with the parliamentary representatives of Member States, in addition to members of the European Parliament, on broader issues of monetary policy and banking supervision. The ECB’s direct engagement with the national representatives of some Member States but not others has been disappointing.


“I welcome the public committee of the ECB President to address the Oireachtas at an unspecified time this year.


“I also urge the Chair of the ECB’s Supervisory Board to consider participating in future hearings of the Joint Committee dedicated to discussing the prudential treatment of non-performing loans by Irish banks.”

Matt Carthy MEP hits out at EU Commission’s “deception” on upper cap to farm payments

Sinn Féin MEP for the Midlands North West, Matt Carthy, has accused the European Commission of deception and of deliberately misleading farmers with regard to the proposed €60,000 upper cap limit on farm payments. Carthy, who has consistently been arguing for a mandatory upper payment limit in order to secure increased CAP payments to the majority of farmers, has said that Phil Hogan’s claims that the proposed reform of CAP will benefit small farmers now appear entirely baseless.


Speaking from Brussels, Matt Carthy, who is a member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture & Rural Development committee, said:


“Commissioner Phil Hogan’s claim that the future Common Agricultural Policy will be concentrated and targeted towards small farms appears to be, not only without foundation, but deliberately misleading towards those seeking redress of the inequities with CAP.


“The Commission have repeatedly billed the proposed reform as one which will see an end to the exorbinant sums that some farm enterprises receive and, in turn, lead to greater payments for smaller farmers.  Commissioner Hogan has claimed that a €60,000 payment cap will lead to redistribution to smaller farmers as well as leave room for more funds for other schemes.


“It appears now that this is a deception.  Proposed loopholes will allow for discounts for the value of salaries paid from the direct payments received before cap, but also the inputted value of all family engaged labour mean that the net direct payments figure to which capping applies will be zero.


“In other words the commission is proposing to allow for large farmers to deduct labour costs, including unpaid labour, from the amount of direct payments before capping is implemented. In effect this would effectively result in no upper cap limit being applied.


“In fact the only holdings where a cap of €60,000 may realistically be applied are the very largest ones in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Romania, where labour costs are much lower.


“Repeated CAP reforms have failed to deal with the issue of overpayments. In fact the last attempt in the 2013 reform which was supposed to make reductions on payments above €150,000, got nowhere close to that. 15 Member States opted to apply a minimum reduction of 5% above €150,000 and others such as Scotland only made reductions passed €600,000.


“In Ireland, the average direct payment is a mere €17,932. Meanwhile 261 farm enterprises are receiving payments in excess of €100,000.


“Agricultural subsidies have been skewed in favour of larger farmers for years now and these latest loopholes mean that this time will be no different.


“Sinn Féin agrees with policies that contribute to increasing rural employment, however exempting larger farms from the cap through these loopholes mean that in practice there will be no change for farmers who are genuinely struggling to cope with lower prices and earnings. It will force out smaller farmers with no real incentives for larger farmers to employ new people”.

Carthy welcomes Ombudsman’s transparency move against European Council

European Parliament Agricultural Report supports maximum CAP payments – Matt Carthy MEP

The Agriculture & Rural Development committee of the European Parliament this week adopted a report entitled “The Future of Food and Farming” which Sinn Féin MEP, Matt Carthy, described as an important signal for a better CAP with a fairer distribution of payments to farmers.  The report, he said, while not perfect does contain some important elements that he believes need to be reflected in the new Common Agriculture Policy.


The Midlands North West representative said:


“I am particularly pleased that my fellow MEP’s on the Agriculture & Rural Development Committee has finally accepted that a mandatory upper payment limit at EU level is required to ensure that most farmers receive an increase in the supports they receive.


“For several years, Sinn Féin has been making the case for a real payment cap that would deliver savings in order for a fairer distribution of payments across the farming community.  We know the current system does not work because a small portion of farm enterprises continue to receive payments far beyond the supposed cap of €150,000 while the majority of farm families struggle to make ends meet.  The fact that 20% of farmers still receive 80% of payments is evidence of the inequalities at the heart of CAP.


“In my time as a member of the European Parliament I have repeatedly a reduced and strict cap against opposition from other MEP’s, including on the Agriculture committee, and also, disappointingly from Irish Commissioner Hogan who regularly responded that it was not practical. This week we have seen a turning point at parliament level that Commissioner Hogan and the Council cannot ignore.


“This is simply an early marker and there will be much work to do to ensure a fairer distribution of CAP payments.


“Proper implementation of these measures should be used to increase payments to small and medium sized family farms.


“It is important to say that any savings made must not reduce national envelopes.  If, for example, an upper payment limit of €60,000 is put in place in Ireland, as is the latest Commission proposal, the funds that previously been went to enterprises receiving above that figure must be redistributed within Ireland so that most farmers will see an increase in their payments.


“In terms of the overall report adopted this week a fundamental weakness is that it was drafted before the announcement of the new proposed budget and therefore fails to address the challenges of the suggested cuts contained therein.


“At this stage, the 5% cut to CAP is only a proposal, albeit a dangerous one.  I am increasingly of the view that there is an option to protect Irish farmers from these cuts without raising Ireland’s GNI contributions.


“This would require provision in the CAP for Member States to fill any hole in direct payments as a result of any cuts.  Any member State that values its primary producers would be given the flexibility to match-fund any reduction in the national envelop of Pillar I payments.   This combined with the measures proposed in the “Future of Food and Farming” report would create the opportunity to protect Irish farmers and see increases in payments to those who need them most”.

“Lost at Sea” compensation move welcomed by Matt Carthy MEP

The Sinn Féin MEP for the Midlands North West, Matt Carthy, has welcomed the move to pay compensation to the Byrne family in Donegal under the “Lost at Sea” scheme.  Carthy commended the family members who have campaigned for 14 years to secure compensation owed to them as a result of the deaths of their loved ones in 1981.


The scheme, which was set up to compensate long-standing fishing families through the provision of valuable tonnage quota, led to accusations against the Fianna Fáil Minister Frank Fahy, who established the scheme, who was suspected by many of tailoring the scheme towards select constituents.  A 2009 Ombudsman investigation into the scheme found that a selective advertisement campaign had been run resulting in 75% of the fund going to just two of Fahy’s constituents.


Speaking this week, Matt Carthy said:


“I want to extend my congratulations to the Byrne family for the sheer determination and perseverance they exhibited in seeing through their campaign against successive Irish Governments on the Lost at Sea Scheme.  I am delighted that they have now finally received the compensation that was legislatively owed to them and hope that this will close what I am sure has been a difficult, and at times frustrating, case.


“The Byrnes, who tragically lost two members of their family, 3 crew members and their entire livelihood had been fighting against their exclusion from the scheme for over 3 decades.


“I had the opportunity to support their case when it came to the European Parliament for the second time last year, and called full payment of the judgement of €245,570 made by the Ombudswoman to be made to the family.


“I further called for the European Commission to immediately look into the scheme, something they had refused to do on the basis that the Irish Government never notified them of its existence. In fact, to this day, the Committee of Petitions is still waiting to receive replies to letters sent on behalf of the Byrne family one and a half years ago. The Minister took three years to reply to the first letter.


“The Byrne family have campaigned tirelessly for the implementation of the Ombudswoman’s 2009 findings, and have utilised every possible avenue available to them to rectify the injustices of this corrupt scheme.


“In 2010 Fianna Fáil used the party whip to vote down a proposal to implement the proposals of the Ombudsman at the Oireachtas Agriculture committee.  This compounded the injustice and forced Winifred Byrne and her family to bring the issue to Europe.  In short, the saga was a perfect example of the treatment of the state towards victims and their families.


“This case highlights the need ongoing need for transparency throughout Government Departments, Agencies and top level civil servants. It has taken more than three decades for the Byrne family to receive justice.    There remain daily reminders of a genuine lack of accountability and transparency from public institutions.


“Ongoing Cervical Check, Garda Whistleblowing and Media Merger knowledge issues show that the current Government, like its predecessors, is failing to achieve standards that should be commonplace when it comes to transparency.


“In this instance it was the resolve of the Byrne family that led to a resolution, albeit far too late.  I commend them for their efforts.”