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// COVENEY PUTTING €100M EU FUNDING AT RISK
MINISTER MISLED DAIL OVER DISADVANTAGED AREA PAYMENT CHANGES
Minister Coveney’s plan to retroactively require higher stocking rates for sheep in disadvantaged areas was not submitted to the European Commission in January of 2012, as he claimed in a written Parliamentary Reply to Deputy Michael Moynihan, and has not been approved by the European Commission.
The Minister confirmed last week that farmers who did not have double the sheep stocking rate on Disadvantaged Areas (now 75% of the country) in 2011 will not receive payments in 2012 and 2013. The closing date for receipt of applications is 15th May 2012.
He explained to the Dail: ‘Some people who simply maintain land to get a disadvantaged areas payment and do the bare minimum with regard to keeping stock for the minimum amount of time will lose their payments, and this is the right approach when we have a reduced amount of money to spend. We must prioritise active and real farmers.’
In a reply to the environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment in February seeking information on the Irish application to make this change announced by the Minister, the Commission informed the group that they had received no such proposal and if they did so ‘the Commission services will analyze it carefully and assess whether it is justified and whether it complies with the Ireland Rural Development National Strategy Plan 2007–2013 and with the relevant provisions of Council Regulations.’
The proposal runs counter to the EU Agricultural Commissioner’s move away from paying per head of animal to paying per hectare. This change is strongly opposed by Ireland’s larger farmers because they fear subsidies would increase in disadvantaged areas at the expense of their own grants which are regularly in excess of €100,000 per year.
Her told the Senate in January 2012 that the “most productive farmers at present would lose an average of 60% of their payment while farmers in less productive areas would gain an average of approximately 85% in their payments. This level of switching resources will, in my view, significantly damage the productivity of Irish farming in terms of the capacity of the productive sector to invest and expand as we would like it to do. This is not in the interests of productivity or of the agrifood journey we want to create, which is around growth and jobs and expansion”,
High stocking rates are encouraged by paying farmers per head rather than the land farmed have led in the past to a host of environmental problems, confirmed by the European Court of Justice in 2002 in a judgment against Ireland condemning this overgrazing.
The Minister’s proposal for intensification of land use in these areas does not accord with this Judgment of the Court. Environmental problems include erosion, eutrophication, soil degradation, and increased carbon emissions. The impact is particularly great from sheep, which exert greater mechanical pressure and are social by nature, further intensifying the damage.
The Minister again responded to a Parliamentary Question on the 21 of March, stating that a ‘decision was awaited’ when an application had still not been made. In fact, the Commission has now informed FIE that no application was made until 4 April, 2012, and that the investigation into the request will take 4 months.
If the proposal is not approved, the payments made will be clawed back by the Commission and Ireland will have to make good the European funding, 55% of the €190m Disadvantaged Area Payments.
Verification and further information:
Tony Lowes 027 74771 / 087 2176316