Battle on for funds from CAP Pillar II
Calls from the IFA for farmers to be placed at the centre of all support measures included in the next rural development plan have been rejected by the community umbrella organisation Irish Rural Link (IRL).
Consultations on the next seven-year rural development plan are underway and submissions are due in to the Department of Agriculture by the middle of this month.
Ireland received close to €350m annually in Pillar II support under the current CAP, and with co-funding from the national exchequer the total fund available was close to €538m each year.
This money was targeted at rural environmental schemes such as REPS and AEOS, as well as the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme (DAS) and specialist rural development projects (excluding LEADER).
However, IFA rural development chairman Flor McCarthy said the current plan had been under pressure for four years.
"It is vitally important that the minister secured significant levels of EU funding with a co-financing rate of 50pc. This will ensure that meaningful schemes can be put in place which will have an impact on farm income and which will support the rural economy," Mr McCarthy said.
He added priority measures in the new package should include an improved DAS, a broader and more meaningful agri-environment scheme, investment aid for all sectors and support for reintroduction of the young farmer installation aid.
But Seamus Boland, chief executive of IRL, said future rural development policy had to allow for the fact that support for agriculture alone was not in the best long-term interest of rural communities.
"It is important that agriculture, which is the biggest economic driver in rural areas, is supported financially at current levels. Equally, the opportunity to create jobs outside the farmgate cannot be lost," Mr Boland said.
"IRL have continually argued that EU rural development policy must be more closely linked with decisions on infrastructural development in the future as well as European and national policies.
"The rural broadband scheme, provided under Axis III of CAP, is an example of how funding can be strategically directed in the future to benefit the entire rural economy."
Mr Boland pointed out that rural communities had been particularly badly hit by emigration despite an upturn in farming's fortunes.