Farm Ireland

Saturday 18 November 2017

IFA facing revolt as members lead mutiny over CAP stance

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

The IFA is facing a serious revolt in the northwest over its stance on CAP reform and distribution of single farm payments (SFP).

The dissenting voices among its membership were ratcheted up today with the publication of a highly critical letter signed by 23 prominent IFA members.

It calls for an end to the organisation's "continued insistence on minimising any redistribution of the SFP".

Ireland West MEP Marian Harkin has also accused the IFA of totally misrepresented her stance on the reforms of CAP payments, branding it an attempt to deflect the attention of farmers from the fact that there was a need "to focus on Pillar I".

The Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, also questioned the IFA's inclusion of 5pc reductions to create young farmer and national reserves in their analysis of the redistribution of the SFP.

At a press conference with the EU's Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, in Dublin yesterday, the minister told journalists that farm organisations could not "have it both ways".

"You can't say you are in favour of giving extra help to young farmers and those with exceptional cases and then turn around and criticise the fact that this money is coming out of existing payments to farmers," said Minister Coveney.

In relation to how many hectares should qualify for the front-loaded payment option being discussed at the moment, Commissioner Ciolos said that he believed that this would probably only work if there was flexibility for different amounts in different countries.

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The public spat on CAP comes at a particularly sensitive time for Irish farm leaders, as agricultural journalists and young farmers from all over Europe gathered in Dublin for a pan-European young farmers' conference.

"Three years after these reforms were first put forward, we are on the verge of the decision making mode of negotiations," Minister Coveney told delegates yesterday. The minister admitted that the Irish authorities were still seeking to have the greening element of future SFPs paid as a percentage of farmers' existing payments rather than the flat payment proposed by Commissioner Ciolos.

"We're sticking with the original position we outlined before Christmas," he said.

The IFA and Minister Coveney held a series of meetings last autumn where they outlined a proposal to limit the redistribution of the SFP to less than €80m.

This is in stark contrast to the EU Commission's proposal to flatten payments. The original proposals from Commissioner Ciolos would see 75,000 Irish farmers gain over €370m in SFP monies. In the last number of weeks, criticism of the stance taken by Irish farm leaders has grown.

Politicians, including Sinn Fein's Martin Ferris and Fianna Fail's Éamon Ó Cuív, have called for a cap on SFP payment and front-loading the payments onto the first 20ha of land that each farmer claims on. Currently, there are over 240 Irish farmers receiving an SFP of more than €100,000 a year, while 80pc of farmers receive an average payment of just over €5,000 a year.

The latest move by IFA branch and committee chairmen and secretaries from across the western seaboard highlights the depth of discontent that has emerged at grassroots about the way the negotiations are being handled.

"It is with great regret that we feel compelled to write this open letter on the need for a fairer distribution of the SFP," states the letter, which is signed by 14 branch and committee chairpersons.

The signatories claim that the IFA was portraying the image of a united farming organisation but the reality was "many farmers inside the organisation have become totally disillusioned with where the (IFA's) national executive is going on this". They added that they hoped that their decision to publicly criticise their own organisation would give the majority the courage to stand up to the position taken by the IFA's leadership.

Commissioner Ciolos told delegates at the conference that young farmers were central to the CAP reforms he was seeking.

"Young farmers are central to a sustainable future for the agricultural sector in Europe."

He urged young farmers to keep their voices heard for the duration of the negotiations.

"I'm determined to stand up for a fairer CAP. But I also need your voice to be heard until the end of the talks process," he said.

See viewpoint p4 and p23

Irish Independent