No partnership sweetener for farmers

TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern last night closed the door on the chances of extra cash being allocated to farmers to get them to sign up to the partnership deal.

Although talks between the farm lobby and the Government look set to resume on social partnership,

Mr Ahern clearly indicated there will be no further money available.

At the moment, more than 8,500 low-income farmers are in receipt of farm assist social welfare payments worth an average of €140 a week.

Mayo and Donegal have by far the largest number of poor farmers, accounting for a third of all 8,547 farm assist recipients, according to Department of Social Welfare figures. Countrywide, there are 554 farmers receiving €250 or more per week under the farm assist scheme.

Yesterday, farming groups demanded the Government address the issue of farm income in the new social partnership agreement, Sustaining Partnership. The talks between the Government and the farmers broke down over the provision of resources to agriculture.

Mr Ahern said that farming organisation were wrong to opt out of the process, yet he was still committed to working with them.

“I believe that they (farmers) are overlooking the importance of the relationship between organisations in social partnership and Government. The test is not so much what is agreed and committed on the page at the start of an agreement, but the commitment to work together in advancing our shared agenda in the challenging period ahead,” said Mr Ahern.

Irish Farmers Association president John Dillon said his organisation was prepared to engage in a final effort with the Government to conclude a fully-inclusive social partnership agreement. He said there was goodwill and commitment on the IFA’s part to continue its supportive role as full social partners.

Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association president Pat O’Rourke called for a meeting between the Taoiseach and farm leaders in a bid to make progress.

Macra na Feirme president

Seamus Phelan said the Government could not expect farmers to sign up to the social partnership agreement unless it made resources available to address their concerns.

The farm assist figures obtained by Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney show most recipients were in the west, followed by the south-west counties of Kerry and Cork. The number receiving the payment continued to grow in the past year, with 200 more farmers claiming now compared to February 2002.

“The department recognises that farmers and their families are encountering, at present, these difficulties and takes account of any loss of income or any additional costs incurred due to the adverse weather conditions,” a department spokesperson said.

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