Over four hundred farmers from across Co Fermanagh and beyond attended a meeting in Derrygonnelly on Thursday evening past to confirm their total opposition to a CAP deal which would see Northern Ireland divided up into two regions. The event, which was organised at extremely short notice by members of three farm community groups in the Fermanagh area, also saw those in attendance give their support to a Single Farm Payment regime which would have, at its heart, a commitment to move to a flat rate payment system across Northern Ireland post 2015. There was also total opposition expressed to the principle of introducing a coupled payment for suckler cows and breeding sheep in the Severely Disadvantaged Areas (SDA).

All of this is in total opposition to the CAP reform policy currently espoused by the Ulster Farmers’ Union. The tremendous depth of feeling within the group of attending farmers was encapsulated perfectly by their reaction when a show of hands was requested, so as to gauge the level of support for the approach taken by the Union on these matters. Significantly, not one person in the room signalled their agreement with the UFU’s strategy

The meeting was chaired by Peter Gallagher, from Boho. He explained that the newly  formed SDA Support Group is made up of concerned farmers who live and work in the Severely Disadvantaged Areas and added:

“We have no affiliation with any organisation and only wish to protect the best interests of everyone within the SDA at a time when we believe the main organisations are failing to do this.”

On arrival, each person attending was handed a sheet referencing four questions taken from DARD’s current CAP consultation document. These covered the issues of regionality, flat rate payments, the use of Pillar 1 funds to support Areas of Natural constraint and the re-introduction of coupled payments. Sample answers to each question were also included.

The Chairman encouraged attending farmers to read the information contained on the document, amend the answers accordingly and to put their name and signature on the spaces provided.

“These will be submitted to DARD as part of thre current consultation process,” Peter Gallagher further explained.

The guest speaker at the event was DARD’s Head of Policy Division Norman Fulton. Courtesy of his presentation he outlined the range of future CAP support measures that could now be implemented here in Northern Ireland.

The other key speaker at the meeting was Florencecourt farmer John Sheridan. A leading member of the UFU, he confirmed that the Union’s Hill Farming Committee had unanimously agreed to One Region CAP solution for Northern Ireland and the introduction of a flat rate Single Farm Payment. He added:

“I was firmly of the view that this policy line had been accepted by the Union as a whole. But then late in the day, and without any prior consultation, the official policy line was changed to that which we have today: a two region approach which would see farmers in the SDA totally victimised.

“This has angered farmers in the SDA who feel they are being treated like second class citizens. Moreover, the Union’s additional proposal of introducing an additional payment for suckler cows in the SDA just won’t wash. In the first instance, the money proposed will make little or no difference to the profitability of suckler beef production. Secondly, such a measure ties farmers to keeping cows which they might not want to retain for sound management reasons!”

Representatives from the National Beef Association and the National Sheep Association also spoke at the meeting. They all made it clear that they favoured a single region CAP policy and the introduction of a flat rate Single Farm Payment system.