Thursday, 5 December 2019

Questions (11)

Brian Stanley

Question:

11. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if he has fully engaged in the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, reform process to ensure his plans are rural proofed. [50297/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Rural)

We are into the CAP reform cycle, which has huge implications for Pillars 1 and 2 across rural Ireland. What plans does the Department of Rural and Community Development have to ensure that what happens will be rural proofed?

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is the lead Department responsible for negotiations on the CAP reform process. However, as CAP impacts significantly on rural Ireland, my Department has a strong interest in developments in CAP reform. The LEADER programme, which my Department administers, is also funded through the CAP.

In June 2018, the European Commission launched proposals for new regulations for the Common Agricultural Policy 2021-2027. These proposals aim to make the CAP more responsive to current and future challenges, with an increased focus on the environment and climate, supporting the transition towards a more sustainable agricultural sector, and the development of vibrant rural areas. Since the launch of the draft regulations, my officials have engaged extensively on the European Commission's proposals with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This engagement will continue for the duration of the CAP reform process.

In addition to my Department's engagement with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, my officials will also consult all relevant stakeholders to ensure that the views of people in rural Ireland are considered when the next LEADER programme is being designed. LEADER operates on the basis of a local-led approach to rural development, and I am confident that our consultation will ensure that the new LEADER programme will address the issues of most importance to the people who live and work in rural areas.

Until now the CAP has disproportionately benefited large farmers. There has been a strong emphasis on upping production, and that is fine and dandy but it is recognised now that we have to add value and keep a little bit of money in local communities. Farmers’ costs have gone up and that is leaving their areas. The LEADER programme is key to making some of those improvements. Would the Minister of State consider developing and improving farmers’ markets? We are lobbying the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to reintroduce the organic scheme. There are also problems and opportunities in the areas of small-scale energy production. Both the Minister and the Minister of State, coming from the west, will be familiar with the large disadvantaged areas, no different from parts of the midlands, where we could generate extra incomes in terms of energy, farmers' markets and diversification. We need to recalibrate things in that direction with the new CAP. We also need to put a cap on the maximum payment because that has disproportionately benefited large farmers.

I agree with the Deputy that we need to recalibrate towards smaller farmers. I come from a rural area in east Galway where there are lots of small farmers who are struggling. The Deputy referred to climate action and supporting the transition to a more sustainable agricultural sector in the context of CAP. It is also important to reiterate that the LEADER programme operates under CAP and that is where we will play our part. We are working closely with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, in order to ensure that we have a strong approach to the new CAP and how it is introduced. There is a delay in the adoption of the new CAP proposals and the EU budget post 2020, with a resultant delay in the strategy for the period but negotiations are ongoing at European level. Ireland is involved in those negotiations through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with strong support from the Department of Rural and Community Development. Our support is greatly appreciated by the lead Department. Draft transition regulations seek to address the delay as it relates to rural development, sectoral interventions, direct payments and LEADER programmes through transitional arrangement for 2021. I wish to reassure the Deputy that there will not be a gap and transitional arrangements will apply until the new CAP is in place. These provides an option for member states to extend their rural development programmes for a period of one year up to 2021, subject to certain conditions. It is expected to take six to eight months to finalise the transitional regulations.

I thank the Minister of State for that reply. Under Pillar II, LEADER has a key role to play. The maximum payment that can be received under Pillar I is high but the focus must be on small and medium sized farmers. We must assist those farmers to increase their capacity and their income generating abilities. The land alone and the production of beef or sheep, for example, is not enough. There are other opportunities for farmers that must be pushed and developed but we are behind other countries in that regard. If one looks at France and other countries in Europe, one sees that we are way behind in terms of farmers' markets, organic production and so on. We must up our game. Some of the focus in that regard must lie under Pillar II as well.

Project Ireland 2040 recognises that the agrifood sector is critical to the broader social and economic well-being of Ireland. In recognition of the importance of agriculture to Ireland's economy, there will be a focus on this topic in the new rural policies being introduced. One example of this is the Bia Innovator Campus at Athenry, which will be constructed soon, hopefully. It has been supported by my Department through the rural regeneration fund. The campus is expected to create a lot of jobs in the food innovation sector, with up to 280 being created in the first three years of operation. This is the type of project we need to put in place to provide sustainable jobs in rural areas. The forthcoming agrifood strategy to 2030 and Food Wise 2025 are also going to be reflected in our overall policy for rural development over the next five years.