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As the first full week of the General Election comes to a close, the political parties are in campaign mode as they hit the canvass trail across every highway and byway.  However, once the campaigning comes to an end on 8th February, the focus of attention will quickly turn to the formation of a new Government and Programme for Government.

The opinion polls indicate that the result of the election is too tight to predict, with the most likely result being either a multi-party coalition or another confidence & supply arrangement.

ICOS member co-operative businesses are major contributors to Ireland’s €14.5 bn agri-food exports, including dairy sector exports valued at €4.4 bn in 2019. The co-op sector provides significant levels of employment throughout rural Ireland, with the dairy sector supporting 60,000 jobs. The agri-food sector is Ireland’s largest indigenous economic sector and contributes a much larger return to economic activity compared to the multinational sector due to the deeply rooted nature of the Irish agri-food sector in the rural and wider economy. 

ICOS, as the umbrella body for the co-operative sector, calls on all political parties to prioritise the agriculture sector in the next Government by implementing the following measures that will support farmers and their co-operatives:

  • Brexit Negotiations: Support the swift conclusion of trade negotiations between the UK and EU and ensure the continuation of tariff free access by Irish exporters to the UK market.
  • CAP Reform: Maintain a strongly funded CAP Budget that will support farm family income, generational renewal and sustainable farming practices. 
  • Climate Change: Support the implementation of the Teagasc Marginal Abatement Cost Curve and ‘Ag Climatise’ Roadmap, which identifies a range of cost-effective climate and air mitigation actions for the sector.
  • Nitrates Derogation: Defend and support the continuation of the derogation to the Nitrates Directive, which is essential to the future development of the Irish agri-food sector.
  • Live Exports: Robustly defend the continuation of live exports, in line with the highest animal welfare standards.
  • Income Volatility: Support the inclusion of an income stabilisation tool in the next Budget to enable primary producers to grow and manage their business, while having a more reliable and stable cashflow to aid them in decision making, resulting in a wider positive economic impact on the rural economy.
  • Unfair Trading Practices Directive: Appoint a new independent enforcement authority to oversee the implementation of the Unfair Trading Practices Directive. The authority should be led by a high-profile appointment, through the establishment of an Ombudsman office or equivalent with responsibility of investigating alleged breaches of the directive and proactively promoting fair trading and fair pricing in the food supply chain.
  • Independent Beef Sector Regulator: As a matter of urgency, an independent beef sector regulator needs to be appointed to bring fairness and transparency.
  • TB Controls: Ireland must not impose a restrictive and costly burden on farmers in this regard that may jeopardise live exports and greatly restrict the free and fair trade of livestock.
  • Insurance costs:  Urgently address the serious cost of settling claims in Ireland compared to all other EU member states. This is a major contributor to the exorbitant insurance premiums many co-ops are faced with, especially those where members of the public are involved. Legislation needs to be enacted as a matter of priority to deter fraudulent and exaggerated claims.
  • Co-op Shares: In the next Budget, allow the purchase of co-op shares, which is linked to a milk supply or other agreement allowable against income tax.
  • Co-operative Act: Enact a new co-operative act to modernise the legislative framework governing co-ops, which is long overdue.

Eamonn Farrell – Agri Food Policy Executive