Single farm payment could yet be explosive issue in Dáil

Clear support for redistribution of the single farm payment has come from another influential quarter — the Labour Party.

There’s miles to go yet in the CAP reform, in which the single farm payment is the most contentious issue here.

But Dáil Éireann could yet have a big bearing on how the reform affects farmers.

About 18 months ago, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney warned that reform of the €1.3bn annual single farm payment could split farmers in Ireland.

With that split now becoming more evident, how does the minister, or indeed the Taoiseach, arrive at an agreement that satisfies all parties as best as possible?

Going along with the wishes of Dáil Éireann is an obvious route.

But even in the Dáil, the single farm payment is turning into a potentially explosive issue — even more so now when the Labour partners in coalition have made it clear it is an ideological issue for them, and when there are reports of internal disagreement within Fine Gael over CAP reform.

“Lest there be any doubt of where my Labour Party colleagues and I stand on this issue, we would not favour under any circumstances a policy which would favour the preservation or promotion of the interests of large, rancher-style farmers,” said Deputy Willie Penrose last week. Although on the rebel wing of the party, Penrose is a former Labour spokesperson on agriculture, and said he was speaking on behalf of the Labour Party in unreservedly supporting redistribution of payments to farmers by front-loading on the first 33 or 35 hectares, with the proviso that some level of agricultural activity was taking place.

Such positions will become important, when — as Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesman Éamon Ó Cuív pointed out — national choices will have to be made after agreement on the broader EU reform.

As one of 27 member states with limited voting power, Ireland doesn’t carry much weight in the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers, the European Parliament, and the Commission which determine the broad shape of CAP reform at EU level.

But after they reach agreement, major decisions will still be made within Ireland.

At that stage, there may still be huge flexibility at national level, to use the approximation model favoured by Minister Coveney, the redistributive top-up payment for the first number of hectares, the change from less favoured (disadvantaged) areas to areas of natural constraint, “greening” measures, and coupling of payments.

They will leave plenty of scope to reconcile the conflicting demands of farmers — without putting productive farmers out of business.

Deputy Ó Cuív has also pointed out that the final shape of the CAP in Ireland must ensure that all our land is farmed.

Otherwise, there would be an ecological disaster, for example in disadvantaged areas. where payments have been significantly cut at national level, even before the CAP reform.

For the record, Fianna Fáil’s stance in Dáil debates is that the cap already in place on the disadvantaged area payment and REPS be extended to the single farm payment— so that nobody should get more than €50,000 through the CAP.

Like Labour, Fianna Fáil also backs the redistributive or front-loaded extra top-up payment on the first 32 hectares.

Sinn Féin says payments should be front-loaded for the first 20 hectares, and nobody should get more than €100,000 initially through the CAP, reducing to €50,000 over four years.

The technical grouping in the Dáil also wants front loaded payments, and an upper limit of €35,000.


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