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European elections 2019

Question: What would you change about Europe's agricultural policy?

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is due to be reformed in 2020.

In our audit of the Midlands North West European election candidates, we asked candidates to answer questions on nine of the most pressing issues facing Ireland and Europe in the coming years. 

What would you change about Europe’s agricultural policy? 

Anne Rabbitte

What I’ve been repeatedly told by farmers across the Midlands-North-West is that they feel their voices are going unheard, particularly those of young farmers.

As things stand, CAP is not fit for purpose particularly with regard to young farmers. The post-2020 phase of CAP, which the next European Parliament will shape, needs to be modernised in a way that reflects the reality of the challenges on the ground.

Numerous young farmers across the constituency have told me how they face a very uncertain future and are fearful their voices are going unheard. Action needs to be taken now to protect their futures or numerous farms across the county will lay unused as it won’t be worth the time or expense. It’s another example of rural Ireland being abandoned.

Fianna Fáil has, since 2017, called for the current Basic Payment Scheme ceiling of €150,000 to be reduced to €60,000 in Ireland. Such a move would undoubtedly safeguard farm families on low incomes.

The current direct income system is inefficient and makes it very difficult for young farmers starting out. CAP post-2020 needs to be fair to all farmers and create a level playing field. It’s from this point of view that I will be arguing if elected an MEP as I feel it’s often overlooked and it’s to the detriment of rural Ireland.

It’s clear too that from the growth of groups like the Beef Plan Movement, that an increasing number of farmers feel they’re not being given a fair deal when it comes to the sale of their produce.

Farmers across feel their livelihoods are at risk and that nobody is there to protect them. All these farmers are looking for is to ensure that they have a fair standard of living and this can be easily achieved through policy initiatives at EU level ensuring fair trading prices. It’s important farmers see that their work is worthwhile and they’re not being undercut or undersold while others unfairly prosper.

Brendan Smith

The Common Agriculture Policy needs to be reformed and simplified and the provision of adequate funding is absolutely essential.

The aims and goals of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) must be protected. My job if elected will be to make sure there are no further cuts to CAP as thousands of farm families need that critical support for income. Ireland’s interests must also be protected in any reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Expanded fishing opportunities must be achieved and maximum sustainable quotas secured for the Irish fishing industry.

Policies must be adapted in the context of climate change and increased competition for both sectors.

Patrick Greene

This is one of the most complex set of international arrangements ever devised, and one of the most divisive. I trained as an industrial engineer and they are tasked with looking for the most efficient method of production to ensure that a company stays operational and profitable. When going into a production facility the people on the factory floor are those with the best answers to the problems within the facility.

In the farming sector, I would consult the people on the floor, or should I say on the ground, by holding plebiscites and referenda. Presently plebiscites and/or referenda are not legally binding on MEPs but I state that I will follow through on the wishes of the farmers, this is to say that in the EU parliament chamber I will vote in accordance with their direct input to a safe electronic voting system that we in Direct Democracy Ireland (DDI) and others are collaborating on.

This system is not only for Irish farmers, it is for all the people of Ireland. The various farming organisations will be given access to this system to conduct plebiscites and referenda.

Plebiscites are not referenda, a plebiscite is where I ask questions to farmers and they pick an option that I present to them, citizen initiated referenda, or direct democracy, on the other hand is where the farmers decide the issue and the strategy, their directions/ orders are then given to me as a representative to argue in the EU parliament. I as an MEP should be and will be a messenger and a negotiator for Irish farmers, not a page boy for the EU.

Maria Walsh

A fair income for farmers should be at the heart of the new CAP. A CAP less focused on rules, will reduce the administrative burden for farmers and allow them to focus on farming, rather than being hindered by red tape and bureaucracy. The needs of farmers in the West and North West are very different to those in other parts or Ireland, as well as other member states and it is very important that they are recognised by the Commission and fully supported.

Future direct payments will be linked to environmental commitments. Mu main priorities in Cap are to secure a budget, ensure young farmers are given the resources and supported to make living off the land viable, with a special focus on female farmers.

Fidelma Healy Eames

More funding needed for a reformed CAP, less intensive agriculture practices and more environmental schemes.

Matt Carthy

Sinn Féin wants to see the Common Agricultural Policy reformed to deliver not only affordable food prices for citizens, but a reasonable standard of living for our farmers. We feel that the current system of payment is unjust and is not fit for purpose.

I believe a converging of payments per hectare, a front loaded payment and an upper limit on direct payments of €60,000 would ensure the survival of our small to medium farmers. This is crucial for the sustainability of our family farm model and to keep rural communities, that depend on the economic activity stimulated by farmers, alive.

Mairead McGuinness

I would make sure that the limitations of the natural environment are addressed as part of the advice to farmers about their production systems, rather than specific schemes for environmental delivery – in other words, a more holistic approach to food production.&

That may come in time – for now, we are refocusing payments on environmental delivery, but we must make sure that payments do not encourage farmers to rip out existing habitats to plant new habitats just to get payments. This has happened in the past.

We need member states, especially Ireland, to draw up an overall land-use policy including livestock, crops, horticulture and forestry.

The current reforms give member states an opportunity to draft such a policy in their CAP Strategic Plans.

The absence of an overall land-use policy has brought about sectoral issues (between beef, dairy, tillage, horticulture, forestry, bio-energy and renewable production) and division between regions and enterprises. A land-use policy could help ease divisions within the farming community on payments, while also addressing sustainability issues, both environmental and economic.

Cyril Brennan

The agricultural policy is currently being upgraded, I support a move to increase payments for small to medium farmers who are struggling with velocity in the markets.

Michael O’Dowd

Put a cap on CAP so that the main beneficiaries are family farms and not the likes of Duke of Edinburgh and billionaire James Dyson.

Saoirse McHugh

I would see a land observatory introduced to monitor land markets and encourage intervention to halt and reverse the trend of land consolidation we are witnessing all over europe. 50% of the budget should be ring fenced for eco schemes as the new CAP needs to reflect the urgency of biodiversity loss and climate breakdown.

It is necessary to see a common food policy introduced to align all the policy areas that affect our food system including CAP, trade, retail, environment, health and safety and human health. We must move the focus away from commodity export and back to food, the environment, and farmers. I do not think that the CAP has the necessary tools to address every problem in our food system, it is after all, an agricultural production policy.

Peter Casey

Ireland’s agri-food sector is our largest indigenous industry and needs to be protected. In 2018 average farm incomes declined by 15%. Our farmers face many difficulties and are only subsisting. Figures suggest the average farmer receives about €18,000 a year in EU subsidies, yet some can receive up to €80,000. That can’t be right. I will fight to ensure more equity in the EU’s CAP payments policy. Our farmers need a fair deal.

Kathleen McNamee
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