IFA says European elections to be most important ever

Farm organisation tells members next group of MEPS will have increased level of influence over Cap

Eddie Downey said the negotiations during the most recent Cap reform showed a dangerous drift away from the sustainable production of food for consumers. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Eddie Downey said the negotiations during the most recent Cap reform showed a dangerous drift away from the sustainable production of food for consumers. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Tue, Apr 22, 2014, 22:00

Concerns about farm incomes, EU trade deals and the economic recovery of rural areas are among the issues raised in the Irish Farmers’ Association’s manifesto for the local and European elections launched yesterday.

The organisation said next month’s European Parliament elections will be the most important for agriculture since direct elections began 35 years ago. IFA president Eddie Downey said the next group of MEPs would have increasing influence over the direction of the Common Agricultural Policy.

He said the negotiations during the most recent Cap reform showed “a dangerous drift away from the core principle, which is the sustainable production of food for consumers that also gives farm families a fair price.

“We expect our 11 MEPs to defend the Cap budget and put themselves at the centre of policy discussions, which need to refocus the debate around the secure supply of safe food for Europe’s 500 million consumers.”


FG candidates
Mr Downey’s predecessor, John Bryan, had been expected to run for Fine Gael in the European elections after his IFA presidential term ended in January, but he decided against it when it emerged that the party was planning to field three candidates in the South constituency.

The IFA manifesto also highlights farmers’ concerns about EU trade deals with the US and South America. Mr Downey said he had “serious worries” about the Mercosur trade agreement, which involves South American countries such as Brazil. The EU was “tripping over itself” to get a trade deal with the US but it cost less to produce beef, chicken and pork in the US because farmers used products such as hormones that were banned in the EU.


Canadian threat
He said last year’s EU deal with Canada did not inspire confidence, as it meant 45,000 tonnes of Canadian steak cuts could flood the European market at any given time. It would greatly harm Irish farmers if Canada targeted the UK market, which takes 40 per cent of our beef.

IFA’s issues of concern in the local elections include boosting enterprise in rural areas, providing high-speed rural broadband, improving rural roads and protecting the “bottom-up” nature of the Leader rural development programme. The farm group expressed concern about new local government reforms that mean Leader funds will be paid through local authorities, rather than non-profit local development companies.

Mr Downey said farmers would not single-handedly save the economy but they were playing a serious part in the recovery.

“Where we are absolutely crucial is out there in rural Ireland for the small towns, villages, the full infrastructure of rural Ireland,” he said. “If agriculture is working, if farmers are spending money, the rural economy works.”