Minister for Agriculture Mary Coughlan tonight defended her allocation of an EU sugar industry restructuring fund to processor Greencore amid accusations from farmers she was backing big business over farming families.
Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) President Padraig Walshe said the deal awarded €98m compensation to the firm and labelled it one of the most flawed decisions ever presided over by this Government.
But Ms Coughlan claimed the settlement amounted to €312m in total with the country’s 3,700 beet growers guaranteed €123m under the Single Farm Payment Scheme and €44m to help them diversify.
The minister said an additional €47.1m was being handed to farmers under today’s final settlement.
She said in total €214m would go to growers and contractors with €98m going to Greencore.
“The Government decision was fair and balanced and was consistent with objective and non-discriminatory criteria and would provide a plan with a sound economic balance,” the minister said.
“Providing full compensation for growers and contractors as well as for redundant workers was consistent with achieving a sound economic balance.”
But the IFA labelled it an absolute disgrace. Mr Walshe said while growers had lost everything, the minister had transferred €100m to the balance sheet of Greencore to be divvied out to speculators and foreign investors.
Mr Walshe accused the minister of failing to take into account the windfall profits Greencore shareholders would reap from property development.
“The reality is the minister backed big business against farm families which was the final insult after 80 years of growing beet,” he said.
“When the EU Council of Ministers decided last November to give the power to allocate the EU funds, they certainly never intended Minister Coughlan to allocate less than 30% to Irish growers.”
IFA Sugar Beet Chairman Peadar Jordan said it was a betrayal of farmers and had added to the catalogue of mismanagement by the minister of the whole sugar reform.
Colm Markey, Macra na Feirme national president, said he was very disappointed farmers had been given a raw deal while Greencore got a golden handshake.
“It is totally unacceptable that the Government has given a Plc like Greencore the majority of the compensation fund,” said Mr Markey.
“The demise of the sugar beet industry will have a devastating effect on the entire tillage sector and a detrimental effect on the rural economy. Today’s announcement will rub salt in the wounds of farmers.”
But Ms Coughlan hit back insisting she had done her bit for the industry: “The success of my negotiating strategy in these difficult negotiations was reflected in the final compensation package worth over €310m, which was way beyond the most optimistic expectations.”
Opposition TDs rounded on the minister for failing their constituents. Denis Naughten, Fine Gael agriculture and food spokesman, labelled the deal a slap in the face for growers.
“The lion’s share of compensation is both going directly and indirectly to Greencore with farmers getting slightly over a quarter of the available compensation,” he said.
“This is a far cry from the traditional 60-40 split in the beet crop returns.”
Martin Ferris, Sinn Féin agriculture spokesman, said the payout is a disgrace.
“This decision means the property developers and British investors in Greencore are now shamefully being rewarded for asset stripping Greencore, leaving the industry and destroying the livelihood of Ireland’s 3,700 sugar beet growers,” the North Kerry TD said.