Margaret Donnelly: Department has taken the hard but fairest approach on divvying up the Brexit beef fund


Free trade: A farmers' protest over the Mercosur deal outside Leinster House, Dublin, last week. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Free trade: A farmers' protest over the Mercosur deal outside Leinster House, Dublin, last week. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

The Beef Plan movement took to the streets of Dublin, with significant numbers of support from both members and politicians, last week.

Many were angry at what they consider a 'sell out' of the beef sector in Ireland, as Minister Creed tried to pacify the mood, saying there are now two years of negotiations around the final detail of the Mercosur deal.

Their protest over the Mercosur trade agreement stemmed from months of poor beef prices and came as the Minister was finalising his plans to distribute the €100m Brexit Beef Fund.

It probably would have been much easier for Minister Creed and his department to evenly divide the €100m beef fund between the country's 110,000 farmers that are involved in beef production but he has chosen not to do this.

The simple option would have seen farmers receive around €1,200 each. But that would have been an easy path to take, and would not have addressed the key question of who lost the most money over the past year. Instead, the Minister and his officials have made the difficult choice and have come up with a distribution method that's largely fair and equitable. And while it's still a proposal and the farm organisations will angle for amendments between now and the July 31 deadline, it's likely to remain as is.

Under the proposal, the Minister has cut straight to the chase and sought to direct the maximum amount of the fund to those who suffered the most severe losses.

It has been left it up to individual farmers to apply for the scheme, but the fund is clearly targeted at suckler farmers and finishers. Dairy farmers and feedlots are the two obvious 'losers' under the scheme, but it will be difficult to find much support to change this.

Controversially, an effective reduction in stock numbers is one of the conditions of the scheme. How that will be taken remains to be seen, especially as data from the INHFA show that few suckler farmers actually want to reduce their numbers.

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The obligation to be quality assured or part of an environmental scheme in order to qualify for payments from the fund may also prove problematic for many suckler farmers in particular.

However, the scheme has to be considered a fair effort given the level of funding and the limited time frame in which the Minister and his officials had to work. But, whether the Minister has done enough to appease beef farmers remains to be seen.

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