Farm Ireland

Friday 20 April 2018

Farm groups clash as IRL claims spark controversy

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

A war of words has broken out between two of the key organisations representing rural interests.

Irish Rural Link (IRL), an umbrella body representing nearly 500 rural community groups, has called for more of the EU's CAP to be directed away from farm payments into more broad-based rural development schemes.

Seamus Boland, the IRL's CEO, pointed out that rural Ireland has a much broader remit than just agriculture.

He said that despite the fact that 40pc of the population is living in rural areas, less than five percent of European rural funding goes to rural programmes. The other 95pc goes to agriculture, with a disproportionate amount of that funding going to wealthy farmers because there is no limit on payments and they are not means tested.

However, the IFA has attacked the IRL's claims, labelling them misleading, inaccurate and without basis.

"This organisation is looking for increased LEADER funding, even though 75pc of the €466m remains unspent," said IFA president John Bryan. "This illustrates the lack of impact by the organisations that Irish Rural Link claims to represent."

The IFA leader went on to contrast this with the agricultural sector, which he said "generates economic activity and jobs in the rural economy, and contributes €8bn in exports".

He said: "The Food Harvest 2020 identifies growth potential of 50pc. This is clear evidence of the effectiveness of the agricultural sector to deliver a strong return on investment from the various farm schemes under the Common Agricultural Policy."

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The IFA's rural development spokesman, Tom Turley, challenged the IRL to bring forward any proposals that would match the performance of agriculture.


"IFA's clear message is that EU funding targeted at active producers will convert into tangible benefits for the rural economy," he said. "During the negotiations in the coming months, the Government must not be distracted by spurious arguments around where EU funding should be directed."

The IRL said future rural development policy must take on board the diverse nature of rural areas (both economically and socially) and the fact that support for agriculture alone is not in the best long-term interest of rural communities.

Mr Boland highlighted the fact that unemployment in western and midland areas, for example, is around 1.5pc above the national average.

He wants revisions of the CAP to ensure that the LEADER Axis receives a significantly larger share of funding, and that bureaucracy is reduced for greater ease of access to funding, particularly in light of recent confusion about funding for food businesses.

Helen Dunne, the Policy and Communications officer with the IRL, said that the rural broadband scheme, provided under Axis 3, is an example of how funding can be strategically directed in the future to benefit the whole rural economy.

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