EU appointment of bird watcher angers farmers

FURTHER clashes between rural Fianna Fáil TDs and the Greens in Government are likely after a member of BirdWatchIreland was chosen to replace a farmers’ group to represent Ireland on an EU policy committee.

Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith was accused of “shafting farmers” with the move. But the decision was made by the Department of the Taoiseach without consulting Mr Smith, who was not involved in deciding the composition of the committee, according to his spokesperson.

Farmers fear their lost representation will significantly reduce Ireland’s power in forthcoming negotiations on milk quotas, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Single Farm Payment scheme, which will be crucial to the future of the industry here.

Ireland has nine representatives on the European Economic and Social Committee. This included two farming groups, including the IFA and the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), which have held a seat since 1973. The group said it was informed last Tuesday that it would no longer have the seat it held for 37 years and is blaming the Green Party for exerting too much influence on Fianna Fáil in Government.

“How could anyone say hand on heart that Ireland’s economic and social interest is best served by BirdWatchIreland replacing someone from the country’s biggest export sector,” asked an ICMSA spokesperson.

The Greens were accused of “cronyism” by Labour’s spokesperson on agriculture, Sean Sherlock, who said they were “for the birds” and their hands were “as soiled as any other party in respect of political appointees.”

Fine Gael’s Agriculture spokesperson, Andrew Doyle, said the Greens demonstrated how to “out-crony Fianna Fáil” and were “continuing their assault on rural Ireland, and getting a seat on an EU group for one of their cronies is just an added bonus.”

However, the Green Party said it had “minimum involvement” in the appointment. A spokesperson said the BirdWatch member was chosen by the Environmental Pillar, which was added to the Social Partnership Agreement under a programme for Government agreement between the Greens and Fianna Fáil.

The EU committee now has one seat for the environmental pillar, one for the agricultural pillar and three each for unions and employers.

Mr Sherlock called for a Government statement on how this appointment came about.

“Why, when we are on the cusp of a reformed CAP negotiation, would any Government in their right mind reduce the influence of the Irish farm lobby?

“At a time when the amount of monies in the agriculture budget is being reduced and Ireland’s influence on the wane, we need all the voices we can muster to protect that budget,” he said.


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