Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 18 January 2018

Slashing rural development funding is a serious mistake

Maura Walsh

Agreement has been reached on the few issues remaining in CAP. "The Common Agriculture Policy gets a new direction taking better account of society's expectations," we were told recently. However, I for one am not entirely certain that Irish expectations will be met.

I also believe that it is not the fault of the Commission either, but an intense lobby that strongly resisted any shift in single farm payments (SFP) from larger to smaller farmers. In Ireland's case, I believe that most of Ireland west of the Shannon would have done better under the Commission's original proposals. What has been even more difficult to countenance is the massive cut to Pillar II of CAP.

Given all the rhetoric that accompanied the lobby about the age profile of farmers, succession and getting more young people involved in agriculture, it is indeed difficult to understand the logic of this decision.

CAP is a complex enough system to understand, but, in simple terms and in a nutshell, it is the major budget spend of the European Commission – divided in two pillars – but not two equal halves.

Pillar I mostly, made up almost exclusively of the SFP, currently holds the vast majority of the CAP money coming into Ireland, with rural development funds in Pillar 2 playing a supporting role.

For example, annual funding from Brussels for CAP will deliver €1.2bn for Pillar 1 and €313m in Pillar 2 for the period 2014 to 2020. But the total funding available for the various programmes under Pillar 2 will depend on the level of co-funding delivered by the Irish exchequer.

If funded at 47pc to 53pc, the total fund available could be €590m; but if the Government reduces its commitment to the programme then the total amount available each year could be far lower.

This rural edevelopment fund is divided into four axis which finance farm schemes such as Installation Aid and Early Retirement, as well as AEOS, REPS, forestry and LEADER.

Also Read


An allocation of 10pc of the Pillar 2 funds delivered almost €400m between 35 LEADER groups nationally between 2009 and 2013. However, it is proposed that this share will be cut to 5pc of the new CAP fund under the programme for 2014-20, and that would be a travesty.

IMPLICATIONS

This could have major implications for rural communities, businesses and tourism. It has even been speculated that not all rural areas will have LEADER.

The first LEADER programme had just 17 LEADER groups nationally. To his credit, for the second LEADER Programme, the minister of the day Jimmy Deenihan put up an exchequer funded national programme which mirrored the European funded one and gave rural Ireland total LEADER coverage. He did this in 1996 when Ireland was far from prosperous and it will always be seen as his legacy to rural Ireland.

The Commission has put every incentive in place for member states to put more into LEADER by offering higher levels of European funding.

If Ireland were to really maximise EU Funding, it would adopt the new community-led local development model, whereby European social and regional funds that normally flow through Government departments and agencies could be rolled out through LEADER groups, with additional 10pc bonus funds available from the Commission.

Irish LEADER groups are uniquely placed to deliver this community-led local development model as they have been implementing a range of other European and national programmes for over 20 years.

It is incomprehensible that the Irish LEADER groups that are well recognised in Europe, and used as an example for the 15 new member states, could be threatened with replacement by new county council committees for local community development, albeit the Irish Local Development Network's negotiations seem to be making progress of late.

Rural Ireland, although playing little part in causing the economic bust, has taken the lion's share of austerity with a raft of social and public services being centralised or removed altogether. This has been compounded by the migration of our young educated people.

Pat Spillane of CEDRA, the body set up by Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan, to look specifically at the rural economy, called recently for a minister of state to be appointed for rural development.

FUTURE

I wonder would this junior minister find a home in the Department of Agriculture? The Commission has identified "special cases for special attention," among them young farmers under 35, who, despite being the future of agriculture, make up only 6pc of Europe's farmers.

Small farms are seen as having a "particular contribution to make to product diversity, habitat conservation, and social focus for rural communities".

Both groups benefit mainly from Pillar 2 funding.

The Council of Ministers, however, has agreed that up to 15pc of the much reduced Pillar 2 budget could be transferred to Pillar 1. The possibility of increasing Pillar 2 by 15pc has also been offered by the Commission.

However, any raid on rural development funds will strike at the very heart of the most vulnerable in rural Ireland, especially the border and all counties down the western seaboard.

It is time that a firm stand was taken through every means possible to ensure that this will not happen.

We must protect rural Ireland.

Maura Walsh is a manager at IRD Duhallow, North Cork.

Irish Independent