Farm Ireland

Friday 15 December 2017

SFP reform needs to be radical – Irish Rural Link

Irish Rural Link CEO, Seamus Boland
Irish Rural Link CEO, Seamus Boland

Ken Whelan

Big corporations and landowners, as well as hobby farmers, are drawing hugely disproportionate monies from the SFP funds and it is time for the Minister tackle the issue head-on, says Seamus Boland, the chief executive of Irish Rural Link (IRL).

Boland, who was speaking in the run up to the annual meeting of Irish Rural Link which takes place in Moate this Friday (May 9), says a situation where multi-millionaire businessmen like Michael O'Leary are receiving substantial monies from a fund created for full-time farmers was wrong, even though it was perfectly legal within the current system.

“Even the Queen of England is making millions annually in European farm payments which is hard to justify,” he adds.

While he accepts that the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, has said he would look at reforming the SFP, Boland is convinced that this review has all the hallmarks of ‘making haste slowly' given the opposition to any radical reform of the SFP system from those with clout at Government level.

On the vexed issue of funding rural development, which is seen as very important in other European countries but less so here, Boland wants all the rural development programmes to become the responsibility of a single minister.

The EU funding for programmes like LEADER currently comes via the Department of Agriculture, with rural development schemes administered by the Department of the Environment.

And while Boland does not want to choose between Phil Hogan and Simon Coveney, he did admit that the Department of Agriculture had a “culture” of successfully maximising the benefits for Ireland of these |EU-funded schemes.

On the question of co-funding, which will be available from the Exchequer for farming schemes at a rate of 46pc during the duration of the new CAP, Boland says the same percentage should apply “inside and outside the farm gate”.

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The rural development schemes like LEADER should have the same level of co-financing as other farm and farming schemes because rural development is as important as farm development, says Boland.

He points out that usually one son took over the home farm, while the rest of the siblings depended on a viable rural economy around these farms for their jobs.

“These jobs will not exist unless the same priority is given to developing rural villages and towns into sustainable local businesses – whether food or machinery based,” Boland |said.

The huge economic problems facing rural villages and towns are obvious to anyone travelling through the countryside and they are becoming more critical throughout in rural Ireland, he believes.

He underlined this point by referring to the massive spike in rural emigration over the past five years.

“Of the 70,000 who have left Ireland annually since the economic collapse 30,000 have been from rural areas,” he points out.

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