The View from Northern Ireland: Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill made a statement to the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday evening on the EU budgets available under Pillar I and Pillar II of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) 2014-2020.

The minister referred to her written statement of 20 December 2013, regarding her decision to transfer seven per cent of the direct payments allocation to the rural development allocation. The minister said: “I intended that this transfer rate of seven per cent for the years 2014 to 2019 would provide approximately an additional €137.5m  to the overall rural development programme (RDP) budget, to help support investment in our agri-food industry, protection of the environment and the economic and social development of our rural areas.”

Explaining that she had consulted widely before making her decision, the Minister said: “The question of whether there should be a transfer between the pillars of the CAP was part of my department’s consultation about proposals for the RDP 2014-2020. There was considerable interest in the consultation, with 175 responses received and more than 400 people attending my department’s public events. I also sought views from my Executive colleagues and their respective departments on the specific issue of the Pillar I to Pillar II transfer.”

The seven per cent decision was challenged in court resulting in a zero per cent rate of transfer being notified to the European Commission. Minister O’Neill noted that England, Scotland and Wales have opted to transfer a total of approximately €2.3bn into their respective RDP and said: “It is extremely disappointing that the north of Ireland will be the only part of this member state where this additional investment may not now be available. This risks depriving our farmers, our rural communities and the protection of the environment of much-needed investment.”

The minister concluded by reaffirming her commitment to rural areas saying: “My main objective in putting together a package of funding for the next RDP is to ensure that we have enough money to further improve the competitiveness of our farm and agri-food businesses, protect and enhance our environment and countryside and improve the quality of life in our rural communities. It will be important to look at the funds available and all the priorities for funding. I will be considering all of this very carefully as we finalise the new programme. I want to ensure a targeted and balanced RDP for the farming sector and all rural dwellers.”