Address by Minister of State Roche to the Wicklow Executive of the Irish Farmers Association Part 1
Thirty years ago the Irish people faced the first referendum on EEC membership. It was a daunting task. We were venturing into the unknown.
The late Tom Walsh, Director of the Agricultural Institute, was asked by the Irish Times how Irish farmers should vote in the upcoming referendum.
Dr. Walsh said “for God’s sake vote yes - entry into the Common Market will mean new hope, new life, a whole new world of confidence and progress for Irish agriculture and especially small farmers who will have nothing to look forward to if we remain outside the EEC”.
Tom Walsh was a man who knew agriculture well. He served Irish agriculture well. The advice he gave came from the heart. Dr. Tom Walsh wanted to see a thriving Irish agriculture. He dedicated his life to that objective. His advice is as valid today as it was in 1972.
Other people also gave their views on Irish agriculture and our place in Europe in the same Irish Times article. Joe McCartin, Chairman of the General Council of Committees of Irish agriculture urged a Yes vote. A Yes vote, he suggested, held out the prospects of a better future.
T J Maher, then President of the IFA, cautioned that “staying outside would mean economic disaster for the country”.
Jimmy O’Keeffe, President of the ICMSA, called for a Yes vote and cautioned against allowing the challenges or indeed the possible disadvantages from persuading people to vote No.
Then as now, Anthony Coughlan was advising the Irish people to vote NO to Europe. His forecast was that Ireland’s membership of the European Community would spell doom for agriculture. His confident prediction makes interesting reading today. Referring to the Common Agriculture Policy, he suggested that changes in the CAP would mean that “even allowing for higher EEC prices less than one fifth of Irish farmers are likely to be eligible for such aid, which is to be withheld from the remainder, whose position disimproves”.
Even after 20 years of positive experience within the Community the NO lobby continued with their apocalyptic message. In May 1992 a Green Party TD warned Dail Eireann ‘ if the ( Maastricht ) Treaty is ratified we will have increased unemployment, poverty and emigration…’ Neither assertion was valid. Time has proven that both were in fact false. Both statements illustrate the extremes to which the No campaign has and still is willing to go.
History proves that the negative campaign leaders, while they may well be sincere have been consistently wrong in their predictions. They were wrong in 1972. That hasn’t stopped them from making the same doom & gloom predictions when we came to the ratification of The Single European Act, The Maatricht Treaty & The Amsterdam Treaty. Many of the same threadbare myths were reiterated in the last Nice Referendum by the NO campaign.
The fact that every one of dismal prognostications regarding the potentially dire impacts of EU membership on Ireland have proven to be false, will not be allowed to stand in the way of their re-iteration in the current debate.
Mr Coughlan and his colleagues are of course entitled to their views. I personally defend their right to express those views. I can even see why there might be a grudging admiration for the continuing energy with which the negative campaigners pursue their objectives. I am, however, mystified at the lack of analysis, particularly at national level, as to the basis of the No campaign. It seems to me very odd indeed that they are never confronted with the fact that their predictions are always so far off the mark.
As a young civil servant thirty years ago, I was involved in what was then known as the post-entry phase of Ireland’s involvement with the European Union. It was a challenging time. There were real fears at that time that we wouldn’t be able to compete with the ‘big boys’ in Europe and that somehow or other we would lose out. Our identity would be diminished.
In an advertisement in the Irish Times which advocated a No vote in the referendum for Ireland’s entry into the EEC the group calling itself the Common Market Defence Committee argued that Ireland would become “an insignificant offshore island craving help from a group of nations who have no knowledge or interest in our problems or any talent for solving them”. The reality has been a long way from that. Ireland has found its feet in Europe. Ireland has thrived as a member of the European Union. We are at the heart of Europe and that is the right place for us to be. Irish involvement in Europe has meant that, for the first time since our independence, we have had a real say in the events that shape our destiny. Prior to joining the Community we were little more than observers, particularly in economic matters.
Ireland is a small island economy. By necessity our industry and our farming must be export-driven.
The farming community knows better that any other community the importance of a thriving market. Farmers have a more practical understanding than any academic economist that the best way to create a market, to build trade, to win friends and influence people is to be there where it matters. To win the game, we must be in the game. Members of the Irish Farmers’ Association know the pluses and minuses of Ireland’s involvement at the very heart of Europe. Europe has been an engine for growth in Irish agriculture, in development as well as in financial terms.
We all know the statistics. We have done extraordinarily well from the Common Agricultural Policy. If the Member states are ranked on a per capita basis - Ireland is by far the biggest beneficiary. Annually we receive €444 per person in Ireland. Greece comes next with €252 per head.
Of Ireland’s €2.6billion annual receipts from the European union about two-thirds, a remarkable 1.68billion come from the CAP. Livestock premium payments account for €793.5 million. Area aid accounts for a further. We receive €482.5million in support for milk and export refunds.
Up to the year 2000 Ireland received almost €28billion in price supports including direct payments from the guarantee section of the EAGGF.
In 2001, 57% of aggregate Irish farm income was in the form of direct payments to producers from the EU. We have received over €2.8billion in transfers from the guidance section of the EAGGF. In addition to improving farm productivity and facilitating anti-pollution and hygiene measures, the Structural Funds have played an important part in helping to transform rural Ireland through the fostering of rural development initiatives. Enormous benefits have also come from LEADER and other programmes that have given rural communities a lot more control over their own future.
Between 2000-06, there will also be an investment of almost 5billion under the accompanying measures, € 2.4billion of which will be contributed by the EU. Ireland will receive € 1.1billion under REPS. We will receive 303million under the early retirement scheme. Forestry planting measures will result in an inflow of €321million and compensatory payments or headage will account for a further €435million. These programmes are and will continue to make a substantial contribution to the rural environment and to the development of rural communities.
I acknowledge that there have been difficulties recently in the Dairy sector. However, my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Joe Walsh, has been in direct contact with Commissioner Fischler on a number of occasions and has secured responses across the full range of market support measures available. Since last November, export refunds for Skim Milk Powder and Whole Milk Powder have been increased on seven separate occasions. Refund rates for Butter have increased three times while cheese export refunds have been increased by 22%for all markets and by 11% to the US. Casein aid has been increased in two steps by 52%. Intervention for butter is continuing with significant quantities being bought in in Ireland - 45,000 tonnes at the end of June. Aids for the Private Storage for Butter is also continuing. Intervention for Skim Milk Powder is now operating under a tendering mechanism and while this is not the ideal solution, the situation is better than might have been feared. Over 30,000 tonnes of Irish product have been bought-in since 1st March.
When Anthony Coughlan and the No Campaign made their dismal predictions in 1972 they may have been sincere. But they were also wrong. They were wrong again in each of the successive campaigns. They have never been asked to spell out the benefits of our being consigned to the margins in Europe. I have never heard one single advantage being put forward by the NO campaign for our pulling back from Europe. Perhaps it is time that they did so. They should certainly be asked.Top