independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Branch revolt as IFA accused of ignoring its small farmers

IFA top brass head into a meeting with Fine Gael deputies last week. Following the meeting, Mr Bryan said that there was strong support among Fine Gael TDs and Senators for a Rural Development Programme
PHOTO: TOM BURKE
IFA top brass head into a meeting with Fine Gael deputies last week. Following the meeting, Mr Bryan said that there was strong support among Fine Gael TDs and Senators for a Rural Development Programme PHOTO: TOM BURKE

THE IFA finds itself battling on all fronts this week with western branches threatening to boycott the election, while its leadership was severely criticised in the Seanad.

Roscommon branch Granlahan has already caused a stir by voting to boycott the election, citing a lack of representation by IFA leadership during the recent CAP reforms.

"I've taken a lot of calls over the weekend and I wouldn't be surprised if a number of other branches take the same action," said Granlahan's former secretary Gerry Coffey.

Mr Coffey resigned on Friday after the members had voted to take the protest action.

"We've been polluted with flyers and calls here for the last number of weeks, but they ignored us for months during the CAP reform process," said Mr Coffey, who is a part-time farmer and auctioneer.

"This isn't going to affect the result but it is a way for us to make our voices heard."

Mr Coffey said that the organisation was not representing farmers with low entitlements and that an alternative organisation was now required for small and part-time farmers.

In response, a spokesperson for the IFA insisted that Granlahan branch would vote tomorrow. "Voting is proceeding smoothing and all branches will have voted by the end of the week," he claimed.

The IFA leadership also came under attack from Sligo senator Marc MacSharry, who accused the leaders of being more concerned with Fine Gael's electoral ambitions in the upcoming European Parliament elections than with representing small farmers in the northwest.

Senator MacSharry said that IFA leadership was ignoring the impact that possible cuts of €170m a year to CAP Pillar II co-funding would have on small farmers in the west.

Rumours that IFA president John Bryan will run for Fine Gael in the European elections in the Ireland South constituency were also provoking farmer anger, Senator MacSharry claimed.

"It (IFA) is being accused, in effect, by its own membership in the northwest, of thinking more about its Fine Gael candidacy for the European Parliament than about the representation of small farmers in the northwest of the country," the Sligo senator claimed.

However, the IFA has totally rejected the Fianna Fáil senator's comments and questioned the commitment of the opposition party to rural Ireland.

An IFA spokesman said Fianna Fáil would be much better off attacking the Government and putting their shoulder to the wheel to help the IFA campaign to secure 50/50 co-financing for Pillar II.

"It's apparent that some in Fianna Fáil are more interested in playing politics with this serious issue, and their antics are letting the Government off the hook," he said.

Sharp differences between Fianna Fáil and the IFA on CAP have re-emerged since Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney indicated that 50:50 co-funding for Pillar II was extremely unlikely. This will mean that the total funding available to Pillar II will be substantially lower than the €590m which could be delivered if the Government chose to co-finance the €313m available from the EU to the tune of 47pc.

Claims made by IFA president John Bryan to farmers in the north west earlier this year that he had an understanding with Minister Coveney that a fully funded Pillar II programme would be delivered has also provoked anger among the membership of the association in the north west.

Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesman Eamon Ó Cuiv has called for a reopening of the debate on the redistribution of €1.2bn envelope for the Single Farm Payment if adequate Pillar II co-financing is not possible.

It is believed that Minister Coveney will make an announcement on the level of funding on December 16, although a Government source said discussions were ongoing between Department of Agriculture officials and those from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Industry sources predict the level of Government co-funding for Pillar II will be far higher than the €110m level talked of in some quarters and could be as high as €180m.

However, this level of Government support would still only deliver a total package of around €490m, which would be €100m a year off the €590m that could be made available from a fully co-funded programme.

This would represent a total loss to the rural economy of €700m over the seven-year lifetime of the CAP programme.

Macra said that anything less than matching funding by the Government would show a total lack of regard for the development of rural areas, highlighting in particular the necessity for an installation aid scheme in the Rural Development Program.

Irish Independent

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