Minister O’Neill commits to policies that will have ‘a real all-island impact’

Northern Ireland’s Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has told AgriLand that she remains totally committed to developing polices that will have real impact throughout the island of Ireland.

She is due to meet her Dublin counterpart Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney in Armagh on Wednesday morning of this week.

Department of Agriculture sources in both Dublin and Belfast say the implementation of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) Reforms, agreed in Brussels earlier this year, will be the main item on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting.

The get-together comes in the wake of O’Neill successfully securing a CAP budget for Northern Ireland, which sees  its farming sector receiving the same proportion of the UK’s overall Pillar I budget as that currently allocated. The minister has also secured a slightly higher Pillar II allocation moving forward.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) sources in Belfast have confirmed to AgriLand that the annual Pillar 1, or single farm payment, budget will be approximately €326m next year, rising to €329m by 2019, while the total Pillar 2 budget for the next seven-year CAP period will amount to €227m – that’s €5m up compared with the alternative option on the table.

Commenting on these developments, Minister O’Neill said: “I am extremely pleased to announce that as a result of our strong arguments in defence of our allocation of the CAP budget for Pillar I and Pillar II, we have succeeded in retaining our historic budget share.

“The negotiations were difficult and protracted as Scotland was pushing hard for an increased share.  When I met with my Ministerial colleagues from Britain at the start of this week, I made it very clear that we needed to bring this matter to a rapid conclusion.  The decision has now been made and I have secured the outcome I was looking to achieve, which will deliver an additional €20m in Pillar 1 support to the local industry between now and 2019.

“I believe that this represents the fairest possible outcome as the existing budget distribution reflects the nature and agricultural production characteristics across all of the regions.

“I have already voiced my disappointment that the EU Budget deal will leave us with reduced budgets, but as a result of this decision, the risk of any further reduction has been avoided.  This provides welcome clarity on the CAP monies available in the north and now allows us to move on to decide how these should be best used for the long term benefit of the rural economy and environment.”

The Minister has confirmed to AgriLand that, with the various budgets now agreed, she intends making detailed decisions on how the various CAP Reform measures will be implemented locally early next year.

“The consultation linked to the next Rural Development Programme has just ended while that concerning the implementation of the Pillar I Programme will continue through to January next,” she explained.