I want to give just a brief outline of where we as a party stand in relation to Agriculture. Our Spokesperson, Andrew Doyle is currently preparing our policy. This policy will be framed in the context that Irish Agriculture has recovered and performed well as a sector in the Irish economy during 2010. In fairness Harvest 2020 is a good platform from which to build Irish Agriculture and Agri-Business
Fine Gael’s commitment to rural Ireland and the future of the family farm and the agricultural industry must be reiterated. The Party is committed to ensuring the industry is protected despite prevailing economic circumstances and the Government’s gross economic mismanagement which has left the country in the unprecedented financial situation we are now facing.
The Fine Gael priority is to target any available supports towards the young, energetic and qualified farmers and entrepreneurs hoping to develop the agri-food sector and drive the agri-food sector forward to new levels of growth. This approach is well justified when we see the performance of the agricultural sector over the past year.
On Taxation matters:
This is a summary of our position, we will have a policy document to follow. We should be conscious that Agriculture has taken big budget cuts in farm programmes over last 2 years.
A worthwhile AEOS scheme has merit as it is co-funded by EU and brings monies that go to tangible initiatives.
In the current financial circumstances Fine Gael unfortunately cannot commit to the restoration of cuts to the Suckler Cow Welfare scheme but the Party is open to examining any proposals which will target the scheme more effectively and will endeavour to protect it to the greatest extent possible in light of prevailing economic circumstances.
Fine Gael strongly supports the principle underpinning the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme. Considering the current economic circumstances it will be very difficult to restore the cuts already imposed, however, the Party is committed to protecting the scheme to greatest extent possible and is concerned about proposals to transfer funding from Pillar 2 to Pillar 1.
Fine Gael plans through NewERA to fully develop the potential of our forestry and biomass sectors, increasing our annual planting to 10,000 hectares per year. Forestry is a sector that is recognised as being important for a number of reasons.
Fine Gael supports the continuation of smaller investment schemes, which are co-funded and do not pose a significant burden on the Exchequer.
Levies are not likely to be touched, but disease schemes need to be reviewed to be become more effective, a lot of money wasted in some of these areas, it should be a number 1 target area for achieving efficiencies.
Installation Aid is unlikely to be reopened, pipeline cases should be reviewed. Fine Gael has outlined proposals for a loan guarantee scheme which will act as a mechanism for those hoping to get started in the agri-food industry.
Fine Gael does not support the imposition of a property tax at this juncture because of the high levels of unemployment and issues surrounding negative equity, which would make its introduction now both unfair and administratively too complex. Homeowners have already paid huge amounts in tax via stamp duty when they recently purchased their homes.
The Carbon tax was introduced under the pretext that it would be revenue neutral and that proceeds would be invested in energy efficiency projects. This has not happened under the current Government. Fine Gael will prioritise energy efficiency programmes from excess revenue raised by the tax which will benefit all sectors including the agricultural industry.
Fine Gael is not in favour at this juncture of making changes to measures such as agricultural relief, stock relief and retirement relief on the basis that these measures do not cost the Exchequer significantly and are the few remaining incentives that encourage farm transfer and a change in demographics, following the suspension of the Young Farmer’s Installation Aid and the Early Retirement Scheme. However, there is an argument which suggests that “Farm Partnerships” are being hampered by current rules and the Party is open to considering a revision to current arrangements in that context so that land will be put into the hands of young people who will expand and grow the sector, employment and agri-output.
The issue of tax credits, Rollover Relief and the development of a universal social contribution will be considered by the Front Bench in the context of wider financial policy but Fine Gael operates on the principle of fairness and equity and this will be at the forefront of the Party’s considerations in this context.