Whatever the outcome – the message was clear during a meeting on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform at Rathowen Community Centre last Thursday night when former ICMSA chairman and Edgeworthstown native Pat O’Rourke stated, “there will be winners and losers”.
O’Rourke, who is currently the chair of the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) of Northern Ireland was part of a group of three speakers including Deputy Eamon O’Cuiv, Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Agriculture and Donal Shine, National Farm Family that discussed the upcoming reform and its subsequent impact on Irish farmers. The community centre was packed to capacity with farmers from both Longford and Westmeath in attendance and the meeting was chaired by local Fianna Fáil Deputy Robert Troy TD.
“CAP reform poses significant challenges and there are two key issues up for discussion at EU level and a number of issues to be addressed at national level,” Mr O’Rourke continued. “There are two pillars – one and two – and one major issue arising from that is the funding for the Single Farm Payment (SFP) and not cutting the budget that is already there. It is worth an estimated €1.2b to Ireland and must, therefore be maintained. The other matter for consideration is the funding for Europe that is matched by national governments.”
Mr O’Rourke went on to say that there was also a proposal to introduce a “flat rate” payment to farmers that would be based per hectare, and he pointed to the fact that, “there will be winners and losers” when the final deliberations are made on CAP. “Whatever is agreed, it is going to have a significant impact on farmers and the reality is that there is no way that EU taxpayer is going to continue paying out on farm practices that were put in place 13 years ago, either. I would be extremely disappointed if farmers were short-changed, but hard decisions have to be made, however, those decisions must be fair.”
Mr Shine then pointed to the proposals to introduce a flat rate payment system for farmers, and said he feared it would be implemented. The chairman of the the National Farm Family group also spoke of the “attacks” on rural Ireland through closures of post offices, garda stations and removal of other vital services. “Since the last CAP – 10,000 dairy farmers are gone from the industry in this country and I feel that the flat rate system will come in,” he added. “Post offices and garda stations are being closed down and people are moving to bigger towns and cities – however we are here to fight the cause for farmers and we need your support.”
Deputy O’Cuiv then spoke about the importance of Ireland receiving its fair share under CAP. “Changes have to happen, but this must take place over time; I am against the regionalisation of countries and there must be solidarity,” the Fianna Fáil agri spokesman said, adding “we don’t want lottery winners here; we want distribution and fairness”.