Opinion

What’s on Joe Healy’s wish list for 2018?

Let’s hope that Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Joe Healy has the opportunity to recharge his batteries fully over the Christmas holidays.

In truth, he will need all the energy he can muster to deal with the challenges coming down the track for Irish agriculture in 2018.

And, as is always the way with these matters, money – or lack of it – will be at the heart of the discussions to be had.

At the very top of Healy’s list of priorities for the year ahead should be that of getting a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform deal that really does meet the needs of Irish agriculture.

And let’s forget about the niceties of policy change.

The real issue is that of securing a CAP budget that is, at least, on a par with that currently available. Any measure that falls short of this target will be a disaster for Ireland’s farmers.

The next CAP term takes in Brexit and the hole that will be left in the EU’s finances courtesy of the United Kingdom leaving the EU.

This, in turn, leaves a monumental shortfall in the amount of money which Brussels will have to spread around the remaining 27 member states.

In the unlikely event of the European Commission agreeing to proportionately increase its agriculture budget, this leaves Joe Healy in a bit of a spot.

First off, clarification will be required from Brussels as to whether or not individual member states can boost national funding levels for agriculture in the post-Brexit era. Healy would need this issue sorted pretty quickly during the year ahead.

If it so happens that Brussels says ‘no’ to national contributions, then the IFA would have the right to call every Irish farmer out on to the streets, by way of protest.

However, if it turns out that the principle of national funding for CAP gets the ‘green light’ from the EU, then the IFA president will need to have a very short chat with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed.

From Healy’s perspective, the discussion will have a very clear focus, encapsulated in the well-known phrase: “Show me the money!”

Meanwhile, the EU continues to seek a trade deal with the Mercosur group of countries in South America. The potential implications coming out of this for the Irish beef industry are toxic.

Again, Healy will have to nail his colours to the mast on this one very early in the new year. At the very least, he must get Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the EU’s Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Phil Hogan, to defend Ireland’s national interest on this crucially important matter.

In my opinion, Healy should be suggesting to the commissioner that his resignation on a point of principle would be appropriate, if there is any sense, at all, of the Mercosur deal putting Ireland in a bind.

And all of this before Brexit!

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