‘Co funding the next RDP – it’s a bit of a no-brainer really’

COMMENT: Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has no option but to come up with a workable Rural Development Programme (RDP)– one that will allow Irish agriculture to build for the future with a degree of confidence. And in practical terms this means that the Government must say yes to co-funding. Not to do so could, in my humble opinion, set the Irish farming industry back immeasurably.

For example, even a cursory look at the statistics provides more than positive proof of the beneficial impact generated by the various REPS programmes over the past two decades. In essence, they have gone far beyond their core objectives of enhancing the environmental and conservation related features of rural areas. By virtue of the fact that the schemes were structured to encourage on-farm investment, a host of other rural businesses benefitted in equal measure – including the shops and villages that are at the heart of every town and village throughout Ireland.

The various schemes specifically encouraged the maintenance of suckler cows and breeding sheep in hill areas. This, in turn, has had a tremendously positive effect on the quality of our landscape – the very same landscape which many thousands of people from all over the world come to see and admire every year. Tourism, like farming and food, is one of the very few growth areas within the Irish economy at the present time. The Government must never lose sight of the fact that agriculture and tourism are joined at the hip. And, if one of these sectors starts to feel the pinch – for whatever reason – the other will be impacted in equal measure.

As we all know, the world is an ill-divided place. There is an East:West split in terms of the climatic conditions and soil quality, which Irish farmers have to cope with. The EU recognised this challenge decades ago. The boffins in Brussels also recognise that individual governments must be given some additional leeway in making national funds available to support rural communities in less favoured areas.

Ensuring that the next rural development plan is adequately funded goes to the very heart of what good governance in Ireland should be all about. Minister Coveney and his Government colleagues should look upon co-funding as a rural investment opportunity for the future. Past experience has shown that the commitment of national funds to such measures has paid a handsome dividend. And I see no reason why this should not continue to be the case over the coming years!