Coveney confirms cuts to agriculture spending in October budget
IFA criticises minister for trying to mask “massively disproportionate” cuts
Simon Coveney: “the real focus has been on trying to help farmers get as much from the marketplace as possible”
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has confirmed that there will be cuts to both current and capital expenditure on agriculture in next month’s budget.
Speaking in Brussels yesterday, where he attended a meeting of EU agriculture ministers, Mr Coveney said that agriculture had to take its “fair share” of reductions.
“We as a department have to take our fair share of expenditure reductions. This year is no exception . . . we will have to see some reductions in [current] expenditure. The targets would suggest that we have to make cuts in terms of capital expenditure also,” the minister said. He added that this year’s budget is likely to be the last difficult budget.
“The last number of years have been difficult in terms of budgets and supports, in particular for schemes that would have made up a significant part of farmers’ incomes in the past, so that’s why the real focus has been on trying to help farmers get as much from the marketplace as possible.”
Responding to claims by the Irish Farmers’ Association that the Department of Agriculture has seen a disproportionate cut to its expenditure compared with other government departments, the Mr Coveney said it depended on how expenditure was calculated.
“If you include the money that is spent on agriculture that comes from an EU budget, then that’s not the case. If you only count the exchequer’s contribution towards the agriculture budget, then yes, the cuts have been significant.”
IFA president John Bryan said yesterday it was “not acceptable” for the Minister to use EU funding to “mask the massively disproportionate Government cuts” that have been made to the farming sector in recent budgets.
“Since 2008, the agriculture budget has been reduced by a greater percentage than any other major Government department, with total funding cut by 41.2 per cent, compared to an average reduction across all Government departments of 12.6 per cent,” he said.
He called on the Minister to ensure sufficient exchequer funding for the next rural development programme.
In terms of the overall deficit reduction figure, Mr Coveney said it was too early to speculate on whether the figure of €3.1 billion would be targeted. However, he said it was important for investor confidence that Ireland stuck to its targets.
“We need to ... make sure that international markets have confidence in Ireland and its future so that we can keep borrowing money as we need to next year. In order to keep that confidence in place, we need to be meeting the targets we’ve set for ourselves.”
Among the items discussed yesterday by EU agriculture ministers was an update on the ongoing trade negotiations between the European Union and Canada, an issue that could have an important impact on Ireland, the Minister said.
“Ireland has both offensive and defensive interests here. We have an interest in selling more diary product into Canada. It’s a big market [with a] big Irish community there and we think our dairy companies have huge opportunities,” he said.
However, Ireland also has a huge “defensive interest,” in particular in relation to beef. “Ireland is by far the biggest exporter of beef in the EU. The European Union is our key market, so if there’s going to be a significant offer around beef access into Europe from Canada, we obviously want to try and shape that as best we can so that our own beef industry isn’t undermined.”