BEAM me up Minister!

The Beef Emergency Aid Measure (BEAM) has been getting an inordinate amount of media coverage over recent days.

But here’s the truth of it. Ireland’s farm leaders will always be first out of the blocks, telling the world that agricultural subsidies should never be regarded as ‘money for nothing’. And I totally buy into this principle.

So why all the fuss about BEAM? The antics of the IFA, ICSA et al over recent days, claiming that some farmers will not be able to meet their commitments to the scheme through no fault of their own, leave these organisations looking rather disingenuous, I believe.

Like any other EU-funded measure, BEAM will have extensive ‘force majeure’ and appeals-related measures built into it. And, if it so happens that we end up exhausting all these options, then the various stakeholder groups have the right to test perceived, erroneous decisions on the part of Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) in court.

Agriculture minister

So what has all this got to do with the agriculture minister, Charlie McConalogue? Absolutely nothing, in my opinion. Despite the protestations of the farm organisations, he has no great decision to make.

And the minister should be so advised. He may wish to remind the various lobby groups that his predecessor went to great lengths, securing additional support for Ireland’s beef farmers at a time of great need for the sector.

And that’s about the height of it. Thereafter, it should be a case of letting events follow their natural course.

The other option of McConalogue trying to assuage the farming organisations, where BEAM is concerned, would be akin to him opening up Pandora’s Box. In the first instance, he would look truly weak and inept in the eyes of those farmers who are adhering to the scheme.

European monitoring

And, of course our ever-watchful friends within the European Commission will be keeping a close eye on things. They wouldn’t be too happy to hear about Ireland changing horses in midstream, where one of their support schemes is concerned. And rightly so; at the end of the day this is EU and Irish tax payers’ money that we are talking about.

But, in truth, I sense Minister McConalogue has an innate sense of knowing when to keep his head down.

My aforementioned reference to the minister not having any real decision was not strictly true, particularly if we end with a scenario which sees farmers having to pay BEAM money back.

Under such circumstances the minister must make it clear that these funds will be ringfenced to provide future support for the beef industry. Pump priming a decent suckler cow and calf scheme come to mind immediately, in this regard.