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Varadkar denies fund for farmers linked to elections

Picture: PA

Beef farmers will feel the benefit of a €100m package aimed at offsetting Brexit-related losses “in the next couple of months”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

The Taoiseach’s comments came after European Commissioner Phil Hogan denied the announcement of the fund was timed to coincide with next week’s elections.

Mr Hogan confirmed the aid package will be made up of €50m in exceptional funds from the European Commission, with matching funding expected from the Government.

It comes just weeks after farmers held a protest in Cork as the cabinet held a special meeting in City Hall.

The Irish Farmers' Association has estimated that beef farmers have suffered a loss of some €150 per head of cattle due to ongoing Brexit uncertainty and speculation of impending tariffs on beef exports.

The IFA compared pre-Brexit cattle prices in 2015 to the prices farmers received in the autumn of 2018 and the winter/spring of 2019 and concluded that the industry has lost €101m since last autumn.

“As a government, we’ve been listening to what beef farmers have to say,” Mr Varadkar said.

We appreciate and understand that the beef price is very low and that the cost the production is now exceeding the cost that 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 expect the money to flow to farmers in the next couple of months,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Hogan defended the timing of the announcement, which comes a week ahead of the local and European elections.

“This is an essential income support for farmers, particularly in the beef sector, which has suffered a lot, and losses of in excess of €150 per head is a substantial market disturbance in anyone's language, and we have to give reassurance to the market for beef farmers and we cannot wait around for the right timing in the context of no election,” Mr Hogan told RTÉ.

“We have plenty of elections in the European Union, and the commission cannot have a timetable that's compatible with elections."

IFA national livestock chairman Angus Woods and IFA Brussels director Liam MacHale met with senior officials from Mr Hogan’s Cabinet in Brussels today to discuss the details of the package.

Mr Woods said the €100m package is based on the submission IFA made to both the EU Commission and the Department of Agriculture earlier this year.

“Commissioner Hogan is very clear. The money needs to be paid out immediately to the beef farmers. The Commission has provided the necessary flexibility so the aid package can be finalised and payments made to farmers as soon as possible,” he said.

“Beef farmers have suffered savage price losses due to Brexit uncertainty and it is a welcome development that the EU Commission has recognised this and responded to the IFA proposal. Beef farmers have major bills to pay to banks, feed merchants and others,” Mr Woods said.

Fianna Fáil gave a ‘cautious’ welcome to the announcement but called on the government to confirm it would match the €50m pledged from Europe.

Party agriculture spokesman Charlie McConalogue said the Department of Agriculture must ensure that the application process for the funds is simplified and timely.

“Today’s announcement is a positive step. The Minister for Agriculture and his department must outline the timeline and process for payments asap. This must be the first step,” Mr McConalogue said.

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