Sinn Fein warns CAP axe could 'plunge 20k Northern Ireland farm families into poverty'

Michael Sheils McNamee

Sinn Fein has warned the axing of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy could "plunge over 20,000 families into poverty" in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein's spokesman on rural affairs Declan McAleer said the axing of pillar 1 payments - which provide direct income support to farmers - would put Northern Ireland's ability to produce "high standard and affordable food" at "grave risk".

It comes in response to comments made by Prime Minister Theresa May in the House of Commons on Monday.

Speaking during a debate on the European Council, the Prime Minister was responding to questions from the leader of the Labour party Jeremy Corbyn focused on the date Britain will leave the European Union.

"We will be leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019, and we will therefore be leaving the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy on that date," said Mrs May.

"The relationship that we have with the European Union on both those issues continuing through the implementation period will be part of the negotiation of that period, and work will start very soon."

She added that the arrangements for fisheries policy will be part of the negotiations for the implementation period, and that: "Leaving the CFP and the CAP gives us the opportunity, post-implementation period, to introduce arrangements that work for the United Kingdom."

She also said Environment Secretary Michael Gove is in discussions with the fishing and agriculture industries about what those future arrangements should look like.

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Risk for farmers in Northern Ireland

"The ending of CAP support would devastate farm and rural communities in the north.  Farmers anxiously await their payment in December and when received it goes straight into the local shops and farm merchants.  The knock-on effect for the local economy would be huge," Mr McAleer said.

"In terms of the Rural Development Programme (RDP) a move away from the CAP Pillar 2 support would have major repercussions for farm business improvement measures, environmental schemes and broader schemes to support the economic and social development of rural communities."

Pillar 2 payments are co-financed by member state governments and focus on rural development, with the EU-defined purposes of:

  • Fostering the competitiveness of agriculture
  • Ensuring the sustainable management of natural resources
  • Combating climate change
  • Achieving a balanced territorial development of rural economies and communities including the creation and maintenance of employment
  • Between 2014 and 2020 the EU will contribute more than €95 billion to member states under this strand of payments.

"The comments from Theresa May unfortunately are an echo of what Michael Gove and the Brexiteers having been saying for many months and should serve as a wake up call for their Brexit cheer leaders here in the north," Mr McAleer added.

DUP MEP Diane Dodds described the claim by Mr McAleer as "another fake news story propagated by Sinn Fein, which plays to fears and has no basis in reality".

"The DUP dealt swiftly and substantively with the issue of future farm support as part of our confidence and supply agreement with the Government," she said.

The relevant section of the confident and supply agreement states: 'The parties agree to continue to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of the Parliament. Further discussions will take place on the future framework for farming support.'

"This gives certainty and clarity to local farm businesses in direct contrast to the well documented €3 billion black hole that will be encountered by EU farmers after the United Kingdom exit," Mrs Dodds added.

Belfast Telegraph