Vital that farmers vote for candidates willing to ‘fight on their backs’ for Irish farmers – IFA

Farmers’ organisation launched manifesto for EU and local government elections

IFA President Joe Healy at the launch of the associations European and local elections manifesto said he had ‘never seen such despair in the beef sector’ as at the moment. Photograph : Laura Hutton

IFA President Joe Healy at the launch of the associations European and local elections manifesto said he had ‘never seen such despair in the beef sector’ as at the moment. Photograph : Laura Hutton

 

IFA President Joe Healy has said he has never seen such despair among Irish beef farmers, who have already experienced a €100-million hit in recent months due to uncertainty over Brexit.

Launching the IFA manifesto for the European Parliament and Local Government Elections in Dublin on Wednesday, Mr Healy said that loss of income would be exacerbated in a “crash out” scenario.

It was not about the date of the UK’s departure, he believed, it was about “here and now” impacts that would require supports to recognise the losses, he said. “I have never seen such despair in the beef sector as I see at the moment.”

While the withdrawal agreement was proving to be very challenging, the future trading relationship with the UK had the potential to be even more complex and would have huge consequences for Ireland’s agrifood sector. The closest possible relationship should be secured, he said.

Critical European election issues were the shape of a reformed Common Agricultural Policy and the future trading relationship between the EU and UK, which would have to be addressed during the lifetime of the new European Parliament.

“It is vital that farmers vote for candidates who will be willing to ‘fight on their backs’ for Irish farmers,” he added.

CAP budget

In spite of Brexit, the proposed EU budget for 2021 to 2027 was higher due to a proposed increase in contributions from the remaining 27 Member States, yet the proposed CAP budget was down by 5 per cent, or €97 million per annum in Ireland. When inflation was factored in, the real cut would be up to 17 per cent – equivalent to a hit of €246 million a year for Irish farmers.

“The EU is downgrading the importance of agriculture and food production in favour of other programmes. Under the Commission proposals, the CAP budget will be less than 30 per cent of the overall EU budget, down from almost 60 per cent in the mid 80s,” he added.

The Minister for Agriculture could not walk away from protecting genuine farmers, and had to ensure payments would go to “active productive farmers”, Mr Healy said. “It is important that whatever system we have benefits the farmers who are doing the work and taking the business risks.”

IFA director general Damian McDonald said there was a concern that Brexit would somehow get over the line and that farmers would be forgotten about. On the CAP, he said there was a risk the current budget might be rolled over for up to two years.

A €12-billion shortfall existed in the EU budget due to Brexit, said IFA economist Dr Edel Kelly. The Irish beef sector was being disproportionately affected as “there is no alternative market for our beef [TO THE UK]that would give us the same value”, she added.

The manifesto reflects the outcome of a series of regional meetings with IFA members.

On climate change, Mr Healy said the IFA believed carbon neutrality could be achieved by 2050 “while not compromising sustainable food production”. Ireland was uniquely placed with a pasture-based system to lead decarbonisation of farming.

Its smart farming programme was reducing emissions by up to 10 per cent on participating farms, while 87 per cent of actions in various environmental schemes were contributing to carbon mitigation, he said. Farmers wanted to contribute to embracing renewable energy but needed supporting infrastructure; a feed-in tariff, grid access and a reduction in associated bureaucracy.