EU funding summit: positives and negatives for Ireland

EU funding summit: positives and negatives for Ireland
Micheál Martin expressed his satisfaction with what had been achieved at the EU recovery plan summit in Brussels, but has been quizzed by opposition parties since he arrived home. Picture: Johanna Geron via AP

Depending on who you ask, the marathon EU summit has either left Ireland at the top of the queue for crisis funds or languishing at the back with cuts to supports for farmers among others.

A special €5bn Brexit reserve fund will no doubt be of particular help to Ireland but the Common Agriculture Policy - funds so valued by farmers - and the Rural Development Fund were both cut.

Furthermore, there is confusion about the massive €1.8 trillion seven-year EU budget and exactly how much Ireland will have to contribute towards this.

This all comes after four days of EU leaders, including Taoiseach Micheál Martin, meeting in Brussels, mainly to debate and agree a Covid-19 recovery package, made up of grants and loans.

The deadlock which prolonged the summit was over how much would be split between up-front money and long term loans for member states.

The initial plan was to break down the €750bn recovery fund, between €500bn in grants and €€250bn in loans. Instead, mainly because of a push from more affluent northern member states, the grants will amount to €390bn while the loans will total €360bn. Mr Martin told the Dáil this issue was the “battleground for the summit”.

Nonetheless, this disappointing outcome is not the main focus of the Opposition, which has grilled Mr Martin since he arrived home. Concerns are more domestic.

Mr Martin said that, for Ireland, “he is satisfied that there is funding there to protect the Common Agricultural Policy”, which will support Irish farmers in producing food, amid EU pressure to reduce the funds.

But the new CAP budget is €356.3bn over seven years, a €35.2bn cut on the previous 2014 to 2020 scheme.

The Irish Creamery Milk Supplier Association immediately called for clarity, with president Pat McCormack saying: “Firstly, we need a country-by-country allocation. Secondly, we need to know by how much Ireland’s overall allocations – under Pillar I and Pillar II – are down and, thirdly and most importantly now, we will need to know how our Government intends to make up that reduction.”

The EU's overall rural development budget which was meant to be €15 billion is now coming in at €7.5 billion.

The government has fired back at criticisms saying there will be a special CAP allocation of €300 million in recognition of challenges to Ireland's agricultural sector.

The big win, according to coalition voices, is a Brexit fund of €5 billion, for countries hardest hit.

Mr Martin also highlighted a special EU €120m peace fund for the border regions, to be added to by Ireland and the UK.

But Opposition leaders struggled to get clear answers, especially around EU health funding for the pandemic.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said there had been a huge cut reduction in this, a point Mr Martin didn't deny. The Taoiseach said health is not a competency of the bloc, but of member states, and that the larger deal on grants was unprecedented, as the wealthier nations had vehemently opposed giving away money.

The new government believes it left Brussels and came home with the winnings. Others are more sceptical. Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy even claimed there would be “greater bureaucracy” and costs with CAP and that it was “disastrous” for farmers. Both sides can't be correct. The Dáil will further debate the summit and deals tomorrow.

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