New farm leader vows to end ‘Big Brother’ mentality of farm inspections
Downey determined to change approach to farm reviews
Newly elected IFA president Eddie Downey giving his inaugural address at the 59th IFA annual general meeting in Dublin yesterday. Photograph: David Sleator
Mr Downey, a farmer from Slane, Co Meath, took over as president of the 88,000-strong farmers’ group at the association’s AGM in Dublin yesterday.
He said he was determined to change the approach to farm inspections, which had caused fear and stress to farm families. “I am demanding a new charter of farmers’ rights that does away with the ‘Big Brother’ mentality and treats all farmers with respect,” Mr Downey said. “This means realistic notice of farm inspections, a yellow-card system and proper tolerances for minor infringements.”
Currently, farmers face major cuts to their single-farm payment if inspectors find infringements. Mr Downey said farmers had no problem with inspections carried out on behalf of the Department of Agriculture and the European Commission to ensure that they were complying with regulations. It was the unannounced nature of the inspections that was causing huge stress.
“You’re away somewhere at a football match or wherever with your kids . . . and suddenly you get this phone call to say there’s somebody at home in your yard and that has the potential to take a lot of your income away. That’s not acceptable. We want to reach the standards required and we have no problem with that, as long as the standards are reasonable and fair.”
Mr Downey is the 14th president of the farming association and was previously deputy president. He took over from Kilkenny man John Bryan, who has signalled his wish to run in the European Parliament elections for Fine Gael later this year.
Setting out his priorities for his four-year term of office, Mr Downey said he would focus on improving farm incomes and ensuring farmers are paid properly for producing high-quality food. “The average family farm income in 2013 was just €21,400 compared to €32,200 for average industrial earnings and €48,300 for average public-sector earnings,” he said.
He also called on EirGrid to announce its preferred routes for the proposed new pylon network without delay and said putting the cables underground must be considered as part of the planning and route design process.
“They’ve only put one option on the table and they are only going to present one option to the planning system. That’s not acceptable. There are other options and we must explore those options and we must put the costs associated with that on the table,” he said.
Mr Downey also used his inaugural address to accuse the European Commission of using agriculture as its main bargaining chip in bilateral trade negotiations. A deal was recently struck with Canada that will allow 45,000 tonnes of Canadian steak cuts into the European market.
Mr Downey said he was concerned this would damage the position of Irish beef in the European market, particularly in the UK, which is our largest market.
“A deal on the same basis with the US, given their magnitude, would have a devastating impact on our livestock sector and cannot be allowed,” he said.