Farm Ireland

Friday 19 January 2018

Homework is now the focus for Coveney

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

After the triumph that was Brussels, Minister Coveney's CAP focus has now shifted back home. At issue is how the €1.5bn annual fund will be distributed among the country's 130,000 or so farmers.

If the CAP negotiations at European level were difficult, the sharing out of the national envelope and tailoring of the regulations to Irish needs is certain to be far more divisive.

Allowing flexibility at national level was one of the approaches that facilitated an agreement being reached in Europe. However, this same flexibility could now come back to haunt the minister domestically.

As was outlined by Darragh McCullough in his CAP coverage on pages 1, 8 and 9, a range of options are open to Minister Coveney.

These include whether Ireland decides to allocate €120m for coupled payments, or if €180m should be transferred from Pillar I into the rural development Pillar II.

In addition, it is open to the minister to allocate €60m in Pillar I funds to a new disadvantaged area scheme. Other issues left to be considered are capping of individual farmer payments or whether 30pc of the national average can be used to front-load or top-up payments on the first 32ha that every applicant farms.

In deciding which measures to adopt and which to leave unused the minister will be making decisions that impact directly on the earnings of individual farmers.

And as Minister Coveney is well aware, farmers are none too happy when you decide against giving them monies they believe they deserve, and are decidedly hostile when money is taken from them.

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However, the drawing up of the new CAP regulations for Ireland will also prove a serious test of the farm organisations themselves – and particularly so for the IFA.

Unlike the ICMSA and ICSA who are largely specialised lobby groups for the dairy and drystock sectors respectively, the IFA is a broad church and must seek to balance the often conflicting aspirations of its various constituents.

The challenge for the lads in Bluebell was clearly illustrated this week when the ICMSA launched a broadside against the possible introduction of a coupled payment for suckler cows.

The ICMSA questioned why the single farm payments of dairy men should be used to subsidise suckler farmers. It is a view that would attract support from many IFA dairy farmers.

It will take real skill from the IFA leadership to take a line on issues such as coupled payments and bring their membership with them.

Similarly, all of the organisations will have to endure the rancour of farmers on low payments, who feel the reforms have not gone far enough in redistributing payments.

All farmers want to know is how much they stand to lose or gain. But for that, they will have to see where Act II in this drama ends up.

Irish Independent