Sunday 15 September 2019

€100m for farmers as promises pile up ahead of elections

Varadkar insists rural splurge is just coincidence

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross Photo: James Connolly
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross Photo: James Connolly

Margaret Donnelly, Ciaran Moran and Cormac McQuinn

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's promises to rural Ireland are piling up by the day - but he insists it's just a coincidence that there's an election next week.

Beef farmers are to be bailed out to the tune of €100m following a campaign by the unions who claim the industry is becoming unviable.

Transport Minister Shane Ross also yesterday sanctioned €21m for bus services aimed at combating rural isolation.

It comes a week after Mr Varadkar committed €3bn to rolling out broadband to the most remote homes.

Half of the beef subsidy will be paid by the European Commission while the Department of Agriculture is expected to match the funding.

European Commissioner Phil Hogan denied he was trying to give his former Fine Gael colleagues a pre-election boost.

He said the "fund recognises the particular difficulty that Irish beef farmers have experienced during an unprecedented and sustained period of low prices, principally driven by events beyond their control.

"This fund will support a fragile but very important sector and protect its long-term viability."

Details of how farmers will receive the money or its distribution are unlikely to be announced until after the elections.

The €50m from the European Commission would be worth just €625 to each of approximately 80,000 beef farmers in Ireland, if divided equally, amid calls by some farming bodies for the funds to support suckler farmers and those who finish cattle.

Farm organisations broadly welcomed the announcement, but there is speculation the money could be distributed based on slaughter numbers from late last year, raising the possibility farmers who finish cattle and factory-owned feed lots will receive a significant amount of the fund.

The Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association is insisting any support measure must include the suckler sector.

Irish Cattle and Sheep Association beef chair Edmund Graham said the evidence was clear beef farmers had taken a big Brexit hit already. Losses are currently running at €4m a week due to price cuts.

While denying the move was an election stunt, the Taoiseach said: "If we could have got it over the line a few weeks ago, we would have been very happy to, as you can imagine".

Meanwhile, the Department of Transport has sanctioned the continuation of a pilot scheme for rural buses until the end of the year.

The scheme was originally proposed by Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Martin Heydon amid the debate over Mr Ross's crackdown on drink-driving.

A total of 65 extended services were ultimately trialled and 59 are to be retained.

Mr Ross said: "It's good news and just because it's good news doesn't mean it's timed for an election. It's got nothing to do with it."

Irish Independent

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