Big Phil's €100m election bailout for Leo
- Emergency fund for farmers announced a week out from crunch elections
- Varadkar denies the timing of the deal is linked with next Friday's poll
- Detail of package not yet clear
A week out from crucial local and European Elections, former Fine Gael Minister and now EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has announced a package of €50m for under pressure beef farmers.
Today's announcement of a beef package comes less than a week after the Government announced a €3bn rural broadband scheme, which many have criticised as an election stunt.
It is understood the Government is expected to provide matching funding of €50m as it reels from plunging satisfaction ratings and heavy criticism of both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and under fire Agriculture Minister Michael Creed.
It is understood the finer details of the scheme had to be finalised.
The €50m fund would be worth just €625 to each of approximately 80,000 beef farmers in Ireland, if divided equally.
In a previous EU targeted aid package, the then Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney allocated a total of €26.4m to dairy farmers in the form of flat payments of just under €1,400 per farmer.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is close to Commissioner Hogan, who had advised him on his Fine Gael leadership campaign in 2017.
Mr Hogan told RTE that the technical details will be worked out over the coming days and weeks.
“We have developed an EU fund of €50m and we’ll allow Ireland to top it up by 100pc, and it will mean that if this is achieved it would be a €100m fund for beef farmers," he said.
"The technical details will be worked out with my officials and Minister Creed’s officials to see how this particular money is allocated to the farmers. Hopefully we can give this money as soon as possible and hopefuly we can give them the necessary reassurance in the marketplace.”
Mr Hogan also denied the move was in reaction to pressure from farming lobby groups, just days before European and local elections take place. The EU Commissioner said it was because significant assistance for beef farmers was needed.
“If the European Commission was to wait for a suitable time, we’d never make any announcement," Mr Hogan said.
"This is an essential income support for farmers, particularly in the beef sector which has suffered a lot. Loses in excess of €150/head is a substantial market disturbance in any language and we have to give reassurance to the market for our beef farmers and we cannot wait around.”
Details of how beef farmers will receive the money or its distribution have yet to be announced. It is not clear whether beef processors may receive any of the funds.
Asked about Phil Hogan’s deal for farmers, and if its announcement a few days before elections is a coincidence, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said “No, if we could have got it over the line a few weeks ago we would have been very happy to, as you can imagine."
"As a government we’ve been listening to what beef farmers have to say. We appreciate and understand that the beef price is very low and the cost of production is now exceeding the cost farmers can get from the factories, so we wanted to help and the Commission has now put some money on the table so we need to now work out the detail of that but we’d expect that money to flow to farmers within the next couple of months," he said.
ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham said the evidence is clear that beef farmers have taken a big Brexit hit already. Losses are running at €4 million a week due to price cuts, and this can only be attributed to Brexit instability,” he said.
"While we await more detail on the support package sought, ICSA believes that beef processors have made beef farmers carry all of the can when it comes to Brexit instability. Therefore, it is the beef farmer who must be supported by Brussels.
"Nothing less than €100 per finished animal will do as compensation for hard pressed beef farmers. In fact, the losses by bull beef producers are substantially higher. The most efficient way of dealing with what has happened so far is to pay beef farmers directly,” he said.
The Beef Plan Movement warned farmers not to be fooled by the headline figures. "Read the small print and let's not be fooled! We need to keep the pressure on to ensure that happens and we the beef farmer get the maximum payment which still won't compensate our losses since August 2018.
Who will get the money?
There is speculation that the money could be distributed based on cattle slaughter numbers from late last year, with farmers and possibly feed lots, who slaughtered large numbers of cattle in these months receiving the most money in this scenario. Another possibility is that, similar to the EU dairy aid package, when €26.4m was allocated to dairy farmers in the form of flat payments of just under €1,400 per farmer.