John Shirley: Have we a lightweight at the cabinet table?

Agriculture minister Simon Coveney is getting the message on suckler sector support from all angles
Agriculture minister Simon Coveney is getting the message on suckler sector support from all angles

John Shirley

Budget 2014 has already been fixed for October 15 next, almost two months earlier than last year. Jostling for position is under way. Farmers too must fight their corner.

To this end, I was disappointed to hear farm minister Simon Coveney in a recent radio debate boast that he had made a saving of €70m in the Department of Agriculture.

The vast bulk of these savings lay in cuts to farm schemes such as Suckler Welfare Scheme, REPS, headage, farm grant schemes etc.

Apart from the vital contribution made by these schemes to farming and rural well being, most were significantly funded by the EU.

Agriculture is one of the few departments capable of drawing down extra EU funding, yet Minister Coveney, right, is not maximising this facility.

When it comes to formulating the national budget, the ability of farming to bring in money into the country isn't taken into account.

Under the latest CAP reforms, in theory, there is additional matching funds available under Rural Development but we are not in a position to draw on them.

When it comes to defending the interest of farmers, one would worry that we have a lightweight at the cabinet table.

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Yes certainly the national budgetary position is dire.

Also total national debt continues to mount.

At over €200bn, our total debt is 140pc of national income. This challenge must be addressed.

It looks as if Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, will proceed with his €3.1bn adjustment in the Budget.

This will take the form of €2bn in spending cuts and €1.1bn in extra taxes.

I know that in an environment where cutbacks are needed, each sector will certainly plead that it is a special case but agriculture can argue for better treatment than it has been getting.

Apart from the drawing down of matching EU funding from Brussels, farming is potentially wealth creating.

There are many opportunities to take out wasteful spending without touching the already low incomes in farming. Only a fraction of the excesses that took place during the Celtic Tiger have been tackled by this Coalition.

The cuts could start with the Oireachtas itself and its culture of high salaries, unvouched expenses and special leaders' allowances which deliver an extra €41,000 to Independent TDs without any apparent justification.

Similar waste is present right across the public service

The referendum on abolishing the Seanad may be happening almost on a whim of Taoiseach Enda Kenny – but I would vote for it. It might shock the country into further real reform.

Meanwhile, farm bodies and the IFA have a big job to put more steel in the back of our minister when he is defend- ing agriculture.

Indo Farming

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