‘Proposal to cap direct payments won’t work’

The proposal to cap direct payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post-2020 “won’t work”, according to the assistant secretary general of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Brendan Gleeson.

Gleeson was part of a delegation from the department which appeared before the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine this evening (Tuesday, June 26) to discuss EU legislative proposals.

At the beginning of June, the European Commission published its legislative proposals for the CAP post-2020 – which included a proposal to introduce a cap on direct payments.

However, Gleeson admitted that the proposal, as it stands, “won’t work” and he feels that is not a “practical proposition”.

During his initial address, Gleeson explained: “Member states will be required to progressively reduce payments over €60,000 and there will be a mandatory reduction of 100% on payments over €100,000.

So that’s effectively a cap of €100,000 on direct payments.

“By 2026 member states will also be required to apply a maximum payment per hectare.

“However, member states are required to deduct the cost of salaries and the value of unpaid labour from a farmer’s direct payments before these reductions are applied,” he said.

Gleeson conceded that the current proposal poses issues relating to how the deduction of salaries and unpaid labour would be calculated.

Continuing, he added: “From an Irish perspective, even from a practical perspective, it won’t work. There is an issue I think with the deduction of salaries and unpaid labour. I don’t think it is a practical proposition.”

But he stressed the fact that what was being discussed was just a proposal and that changes could be made. He even hinted at the possibility of the mandatory capping of direct payments becoming a voluntary option for member states post-2020.

‘No impact’

As well as this, concerns relating to the proposal to introduce a mandatory cap on direct payments were expressed by Fianna Fail TD Jackie Cahill.

“The ceiling on basic payments and the way that it has been worded and designed – in my view – will have no impact on the amount of money that is going to be made available for redistribution to other farmers.

“I think there will be loopholes left there and that it will have no financial impact whatsoever.

There is a very strong case to be made for a far more strict ceiling to be put on payments when the budget is under such pressure.

“That is something that we, as a country, should seriously look at,” he said.

‘An awful mess’

Meanwhile, Labour TD Willie Penrose highlighted that he was in favour of capping direct payments post-2020.

Deputy Penrose underlined that it is important that we achieve a fair distribution of direct payments in order to achieve the “objective of ensuring that small and medium-sized farms are saved and sustained in the future”.

“It is hard to justify large corporations – corporate farmers – getting huge big sums; at the same time, they are the very people who can release cattle onto the market to suit the situation and depress prices at a critical time,” he added.

But the Labour TD shares similar concerns to those of the department’s Brendan Gleeson – in relation to how the department would measure salaries and the value of unpaid labour.

“This is manufactured, super bureaucracy – so as to obscure what is a very clear objective. I’m worried that [the department is] going to be left in an awful mess,” he concluded.