A citizens dialogue on the future of Irish agriculture and the agri-food sector took place recently at the Hillgrove Hotel, Co. Monaghan.
Speakers at the event – organised by the Europe Direct Information Centre in Clones – included: Gerard Kiely, head of the European Commission in Ireland; Matt Carthy, MEP for Midlands-North and West; John Kelly of Teagasc and Ballyhaise College; and Thomas Cooney, chairman of the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) Environment Committee.
Topics included: Ireland’s EU membership; the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post-2020; Brexit; and climate change.
Gerard Kiely, the head of the European Commission in Ireland, stated that “being part of the EU benefits everyone”.
“We should not take the EU for granted. Europe is showing great solidarity with Ireland at present – which is evidenced in their support on the Brexit backstop issue.
“All 26 other member states are in solidarity with Ireland’s position,” he said.
Speaking about EU agricultural policy, Matt Carthy MEP said that the CAP budget needs to be “enhanced and protected”.
The network of family farms are what keep our regional centres and towns alive – we must protect this industry.
Reacting to the issue of climate change, Carthy said: “It is farmers who are seeing the real impact of climate change on their farms all the time, with the recent flooding and drought conditions.”
A question was raised about how energy can be generated on farms, to which Carthy replied that farmers need to become energy generators; but there is a reluctance among farmers to change from livestock unless there are guaranteed prices for biomass energies.
The IFA’s environmental chairman Thomas Cooney outlined the farm lobby group’s proposals for Brexit.
Cooney said: “IFA want no hard border on the island of Ireland and no border in the Irish Sea.
There must be no scope for the UK to pursue a cheap food policy and lesser standards. For this to happen, the UK must commit to full alignment with EU standards and the common external tariff in agri-food.
The farm body representative also stressed that the agri-food sector in Ireland is the “most exposed” to Brexit.
Commenting on cuts to the CAP budget, Cooney said: “A 5% cut in funding will cost €97 million to farmers.”
He added that talks of simplifying the CAP are being welcomed; but these must it must be noticeable for farmers.