I would like to thank you for the invitation to address you to.  For 60 years the IFA has been an important voice for farmers at home and abroad.  It’s been a period of immense change and the role of agriculture in the Irish economy has changed with it.

The clear message which I and my party have for you is that we believe that agriculture remains a vital economic and society part of Irish life and that its interests must be prioritised.  A modern, diverse and secure farming community is absolutely essential for our country.

During this election I’ve been making sure that I hear the aspirations and concerns of farmers and rural communities and that we reflect these in the national debate.

The core strengths of the Irish economy have secured a recovery, but rural Ireland is being left behind – offered warm words while services and supports have been cut.

An unfair two-tier recovery has taken hold which has concentrated growth disproportionately in one location leaving the regions lagging behind.

It is not sustainable for both our capital and rural Ireland that 42% of the Irish economy is generated in our capital. In contrast, London makes up 20% of the UK’s economy.

Fianna Fáil vision centres on providing a balanced and fair recovery, delivering jobs and growth to all communities; ensuring every citizen has the same opportunity to prosper regardless of  what part of they country they are based in.

Vision for the Agri-Food Sector

Fianna Fáil is committed to protecting and developing agriculture for the 140,000 farming families in Ireland as the main driver of the rural economy and custodian of the Irish countryside.

We believe in the family farm model of agriculture that places environmentally and socially sustainable farming at its heart.

The coming years offer a real opportunity to farmers to grow and expand offering high quality affordable produce to consumers across Ireland and the world.

The agri food sector is the largest indigenous industry in Ireland, employing over 175,000 people, with food and drink exports reaching nearly €11bn in 2015.

Fianna Fáil in government introduced the visionary Food Harvest 2020 strategy for the period 2010-2020.  Launched by Brendan Smith worked so well that Fine Gael and Labour have tried to pretend they wrote it.

The milestones for success report last year confirmed that primary output had increased by 32% in 2014, while cereals, pigmeat, dairy and beef have seen output value increased by 62%, 54%, 42% and 39% respectively on the Food Harvest 2020 baseline.

Food Wise 2025 has been generally welcomed by industry, but its ultimate litmus test will be if it delivers fair prices and profit levels for farmers on the ground.

I would like to focus on 4 key areas today:

– Fair prices
– CAP Reform
– Climate change targets
– Rural Development & Service Provision

Fair prices

A fair price for the primary producer is the central plank of Fianna Fáil’s agriculture policy and is vital to the long term survival and success of the horticulture, beef, sheep, liquid milk and poultry sectors.

With rising instability in many sectors direct action needs to be taken to ensure a stable income stream for farmers and decent levels of profitability.

Fundamentally, farmers can no longer be at the mercy of unscrupulous multiples and retailors and content to be price takers.

Overall family farm incomes dropped 9% in 2015 according to Teagasc.

It is unsustainable to expect farmers to produce more unless they are making a profit on their extra production.

The lack of action by the present government in ensuring a fair return to farmers for their product has been a common feature of this administration at home and abroad.

This laissez-faire attitude has had a negative effect on all types of farming and has allowed a small number of dominant players set the price and forced farmers to be price takers.

Fianna Fáil in government will amend consumer legislation and establish a national Food Ombudsman and the protection of primary producers in national law.

Given the blatant market concentration of a few processors in the beef sector currently, this is one area where such a new office should examine to ensure adequate competition in the market place.

Fianna Fáil has taken its proposals to the EU to progress fair price legislation at European level and found the Commissioner very receptive of our suggestions for the protection of primary producers from the power of the multiples and the major processors.

We support specific EU legislation making it mandatory on food retailing firms that exceed certain thresholds to supply information and data on the gross margins they obtain on specific food items for each of the Member States in which they operate.

CAP Reform

During the mid-term CAP review, Fianna Fáil will seek to re-direct unspent funds by increasing ANC payments.

In our manifesto, we will support an increased top up payment to achieve a genomics payment target of €200 on the first 20 cows.

The impact of “Green tape” and an intrusive inspection regime is creating undue stress and concern for working farmers already struggling to make ends meet.

Many families fear the threat of failing an inspection and subsequent financial penalties.

We will introduce a fairer and more transparent inspection system based on the yellow card model that gives farmers a fair but firm warning on non-intentional non-compliance measures.

This means that failure will not instantly meet with potentially disastrous penalties but rather with a clear instruction to fix the problem before penalties are levied.

This will be introduced in co-ordination with the EU.  We welcome Commissioner Hogan’s receptiveness to this initiative.

Climate Change

Fianna Fáil is supportive of environmentally sustainable farming.

Irish cattle production is amongst the most environmentally sustainable models on the planet.

Future EU 2030 target negotiations must underpin the need for food security and the central role of an exporting country like Ireland which has an efficient food production sector.

The Carbon foot print of output of Irish farms is one of the lowest in the world.

Irish and EU food security concerns must be put on an equal footing with climate change responsibilities.

We believe that the low emissions targets agreed at COP21 (Climate Change Conference) in Paris in December presents huge opportunities as well as challenges for Ireland.

The central issue for Ireland will be the negotiations that will take place with the EU over how emission targets will be distributed within the EU.

It is essential that as a country, we get a fair deal in negotiations over the technical details associated with Greenhouse Gas reduction targets and their measurement.

It is essential that negotiators push for land use, land use change and forestry to be recognized as a major contribution to GHG targets.

In particular, the high sequestration potential of Ireland’s unique grass-based agriculture production model – as well as the high potential of our forests, boglands and other habitats that absorb carbon – should be accounted for in the calculation of emissions to compensate for our level of agricultural emissions.

Rural Development and Service Provision

Current government policy is undermining rural communities’ social mobility and cohesion

Close to five years in office, this government have presided over a consistent policy of withdrawing essential state services and abandoning exchequer funded programmes, which had been established under Fianna Fáil to protect and promote every region.

Government’s latest initiative has been the so-called “Charter for Rural Ireland”.

There is nothing new in this that will immediately improve services provision, infrastructure and employment opportunities in rural parishes other than creating another TALKING SHOP.

In contrast, Fianna Fáil have published “A manifesto for Rural Ireland” laying out practical costed solutions to immediately improve the lives of rural dwellers in terms of service provision, infrastructure and employment opportunities.

It is a an action plan that we will implement on DAY 1 in government.

We will reinstate a senior rural ministry and introduce a community services guarantee.

This guarantee will set universal standards on the availability of public services such as schools, health facilities, social services, Gardaí in all communities including rural communities.

We will also maintain rural GP cover and increase GP’s rural practice allowance, while restoring the pupil teacher ratio in small schools & improve school transport services.

In 2011, this government promised high speed broadband to 90% of homes and businesses by 2015. Now the target is for 2020.

Fianna Fáil’s infrastructural guarantee centres on rolling out fibre broadband with download speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second to every home and business. Fibre to the home is the only technology that will future proof this delivery.

To attend to the poor mobile phone reception nationwide, we will  launch a national mobile phone audit and enhance 4G mobile phone services so that there is overage in every parish nationwide.

Fianna Fáil will restore the CLÁR programme funding for the provision of rural infrastructure such as water, electricity, health and sports capital projects and minor roads.

With regard to road maintenance, we will ensure a quality road network in rural areas with adequate roads to every household, while reinstating the local improvement roads scheme (LIS).

The LEADER programme supports small rural business, providing supports across a wide range of areas such as childcare, rural recreation and youth development.

These programmes form a central part of the fabric of rural communities across Ireland providing core services that would otherwise be unavailable to these areas.

Fianna Fáil is committed to increasing LEADER funding to the level that pertained previously which has been cut by over 40% under this rural development programme

We also will reinstate the autonomy that LEADER companies had in their rural communities, where local communities request this.

In order to promote and reward rural entrepreneurship, Fianna Fáil will create a fairer tax system by giving self-employed persons like farmers an equivalent tax allowance to the PAYE tax allowance.

This has been a consistent policy of ours in opposition as well as creating mechanisms to enable the self employed to opt into making PRSI contributions equivalent to PAYE workers.

Our commitment to farmers and rural Ireland isn’t just talk, we’re backing it up with priority in the funding we have identified in our manifesto.  For LEADER, for example, we have provided for a €100 million increase during the next government.

We are the only party which has put rural Ireland at the heart of its manifesto and its spending commitments.

The election is well under way. Farming families will examine all the policies being put in front of them and carefully examine the current  government parties’ record in power.

Fianna Fáil stands firmly on the side of the primary producer and and ensure farmers are price makers and not price takers.

Fundamentally, securing increased profitability levels along with fair prices and fair competition in all Agriculture sectors is the platform we will fight this election on.

Safeguarding rural communities’ viability and ensuring that they are not let behind by this two tier recovery is our guiding vision.