Move to overhaul farmers' support payments welcomed

The Minister for Agriculture in Dublin, Joe Walsh, is to push ahead with a plan to make farmers' support payments independent from their agricultural production.

The move to `decouple' the two has been widely welcomed as a means of safeguarding livelihoods for farmers while eliminating the bureaucracy of the old system.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association said the decision reflected the realities of the market and would contribute to the sustainability and competitiveness of the industry in Ireland.

The Minister made his move yesterday after years of argument at local and international level over reform of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

EU Agriculture Commissioner Dr Franz Fischler concluded a deal with member states earlier this year that required an end to the link between support payments and output.

State agricultural research agency Teagasc produced a study last week showing full decoupling would lead to a ten per cent rise in farm incomes by 2012.

The decision was made at Cabinet on Saturday and will come into effect in 2005.

Sinn Féin Agriculture Spokespersons, North Kerry TD Martin Ferris and Fermanagh South Tyrone representative Cllr Gerry McHugh have welcomed the decisio but added that ``this decision must be followed by negotiations at the earliest opportunity to ensure that decoupling is introduced within a single all-Ireland framework.''

In a joint statement Martin Ferris TD and Cllr Gerry McHugh added tha the introduction of full decoupling ``must also herald a major shift away from the red tape and paper work that has created so many problem for the framing community.

``Any failure to develop the single all-Ireland framework for decoupling could prove to be very damaging. The artificial border can no longer be used to create winners and losers within the farming community.''

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