Appointed Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on May 6, Michael Creed TD says this Government’s commitment to Rural Ireland will be a collective effort across Cabinet.
How will the commitment to rural Ireland in the new programme for government be looked after by the several departments involved?
This Government’s commitment to rural Ireland is very clearly set out in the Programme for a Partnership Government. The rural/regional affairs agenda is central to Minister Humphrey’s new Department, supported by Ministers Ring and Kyne.
A new Cabinet Committee on Rural Affairs, chaired by the Taoiseach, is helping to co-ordinate and prioritise this work across Government.
A key target is a new Action Plan for Rural Ireland. We have seen from the Action Plan for Jobs, and Food Harvest 2020 to take an agricultural example, the success that can be achieved through such strategic planning.
Therefore it is fair to say this Government’s commitment to Rural Ireland will be a collective effort across Cabinet.
The ultimate goal of the new Government is sustainable full employment in all parts of the country, and to ensure working families are supported.
This will mean an extra 200,000 jobs by 2020, of which 135,000 will be outside Dublin.
It is my hope that Food-Wise 2025, and continued emphasis on the agri-food sector as an economic driver, will be central to these efforts.
Broadband in rural areas is as big a challenge today, as rural electrification years ago. This is something we are determined to get right. Ensuring that no town, village or parish will be left behind in the National Broadband Plan is at the top of the priorities.
How big are Agriculture, Food and the Marine in this mix?
Agriculture is at the core of this commitment to rural Ireland. The agri-food sector is the heartbeat of the rural economy, and I am totally committed to the hard-working families and businesses that provide the solid foundations for the industry.
I see this industry as an engine for growth, providing valuable jobs in rural Ireland and contributing enormously to the social fabric.
Foodwise 2025 aims to improve farm profitability through focus on competitiveness, innovation and knowledge transfer, and to continue food industry growth through development of new markets, consumer insights and innovation.
This is all based on a foundation of robust food safety and environmentally sustainable systems.
Foodwise aims to deliver an additional 23,000 jobs and to increase exports to €19bn, providing a stimulus for every town and village.
To put the Government’s commitment in context; about €12bn is being invested in rural Ireland across the lifetime of the CAP, €4bn of it directly targeted at enhancing profitability and efficiency through farm-gate schemes.
I am really focused on ensuring this investment delivers farm efficiencies to ensure the family farm structure is maintained for generations.
Will extra funding have to come from the national exchequer rather than the EU?
My Department is proactively engaged with financial institutions and all stakeholders to explore possibilities arising from the limited changes to agriculture State Aid rules recently announced by the Commission.
The changes do not imply additional EU or national sources of funding, but are more in the nature of increased flexibility in State Aid rules.
How important is it to have a former colleague in the agriculture commissioner’s seat in Brussels?
It is of course very useful to have someone in the Commissioner’s seat who understands Irish agriculture and appreciates the importance of the industry.
However, I am very conscious that the Commissioner must work in the interests of all farmers across the 28 Member States, and in some instances, the interests of others may not be consistent with our own.
My Department has on-going contacts with the EU Commission, the EIB, and financial institutions in Ireland, with regard to developing alternative sources of finance, and in particular lower cost and more flexible finance, for farmers and the food sector.
My Department is preparing to procure an ex-ante evaluation for introduction of Financial Instruments under the Rural Development Programme, and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland has developed an Ag Investment Loan product delivered through the main banks, which has had a very good take-up rate.
I will be meeting CEOs of the main Irish banks this week, to discuss their plans to respond to price volatility, and the cost of credit to the sector, in particular.
How hopeful are you about the Commissioner’s efforts to reduce EU import tariffs on fertilisers?
No stone can be left unturned in pursuing options to alleviate pressure on farmers due to downward pressure on prices. Such options should include measures that help to reduce production costs.
Fertiliser is the third most important expenditure item on EU farms, and prices have increased significantly in recent years.
Appropriate action in this area could be of significant benefit to farmers. I have raised this issue with Commissioner Hogan, most recently at the May Council, and Commissioner Hogan again confirmed he has sought Commissioner Moscovici’s support in progressing the issue.
I have also spoken to my French counterpart with a view to getting his support. I hope progress can be made in the short-term, and that Commissioner Moscovici in particular would be in a position to look favourably on this proposal.
Can you help farmers derive a viable income from land designated as habitat for the hen harrier?
As you pointed out, I have been a loud advocate for farmers with hen harrier designated lands, for some time now.
The Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan is looking at the combined effects of agricultural intensification, afforestation and wind farms. It is taking longer than I or Minister Doyle would like.
My Department is working closely with the Dept of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and Gaeltacht to conclude the work involved.
When the threat response plan is agreed with the EU Commission, we expect to be in a position to allow planting approval in Hen Harrier areas, on a limited basis initially, with the proper safeguards in place.
We believe we can show that forestry and Hen Harriers can co-exist.
The latest survey shows that the bird numbers are declining slightly at national level, but there are some increases in heavily forested areas.
GLAS provides significant support for farmers in Hen Harrier protected areas, and Locally Led Agri Environment Schemes now being developed will also support them, especially those with larger tracts of Hen Harrier land.
Explain the approval delays in the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme?
I addressed this last week in the Dáil. I am acutely aware some farmers have been eager to progress their TAMS application and I am glad to say TAMS II approvals have commenced, and 648 full approvals have issued, in addition to over 1,100 part-approvals for urgently required dairy equipment and low emission slurry spreading equipment.
All eligible first tranche applications are with local offices for final approvals, and are being processed as speedily as possible.
In addition, 755 Tranche II applications have gone through ranking and selection, and will be processed by local offices shortly.
Work is underway to finalise the IT payment system, with a view to commencing payments next month.
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