The Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has told farmers not to be taken in by “cheap promises” in the run-up to a general election.

“In an election, don’t be taken in by cheap promises.

“I hope you’ve got to know me as a reasonable straight talker. I won’t mislead people and lead you up the garden path and I’d appeal to you not to be fooled by it.”

Coveney was heavily critical of Fianna Fail’s Eamon O Cuiv’s plans to introduce a €200/head payment which would either replace or supplement the current Beef Data and Genomics Programme.

“We can’t pull money out of the air. The money does not exist unless it gets taken from somewhere else.

“I have heard a number of promises being made, around at €200/head payment for cattle, with no explanation about how it would be made, where the money would come from.”

Minister Coveney

Minister Coveney with Eddie Punch and Patrick Kent at the ICSA AGM.

The Minister also defended his work during his term as Minister for Agriculture and said he was happy to take criticism, although not on hen harriers.

“We have moved heaven and earth on this.

“The simple principle that it’s unreasonable to have strict designation without some compensation, that’s a fair complaint, but we have to work through the systems that are there.

“The hen harrier problem was not caused by the Department of Agriculture and we are solving it. We could be spending €23-25m a year on hen harrier alone. Think of what we could do with €23-25m a year for the sheep sector.”

Minister Coveney admitted that there have been problems around the communications of where farmers payments are.

“Farmers have been picking up the phone looking for the status of your basic payment or other scheme and you probably didn’t get the answer you were looking for.”

He admitted the Department’s new system for dealing with queries hasn’t worked. “…where we separate the experts from the people on the phone, but then the people on the phone didn’t have the expertise to give you the answers you needed. I’m sorry about that. I’ll make sure we learn lessons about it and fix it.”

But he challenged the room to show him a country that got payments out faster than Ireland.